On Turn one of the Austin Grand Prix all eyes were on the battle up front as the newly adopted Texan Danny Ricciardo ruined the Mercedes love-in up front. But if we look further back down the snake we see a fascinating piece of F1 history playing out. The increasingly beleaguered Sebastian Vettel makes contact at the Apex with Nico Hulkenberg who then makes contact with Bottas.
There’s a fundamental problem in F1 in that the rules don’t seem adequately written to deal with collision in corners. On a straight, before the braking zone the rules are clear. Yet in the corners we have myth, tradition and the whim of the stewards. In Turn 1 incidents you really have to get out of the car and punch someone before you get a penalty. I disagree 100% with the crowd that says we should have no rules in corners and just let them race. Well ok then … in what manner shall we race. One of my biggest frustrations in karting is that on a tight track the rudest people will succeed. There’s such a small line between ‘rubbing’ and getting applause and ‘barging’ and having everyone think you’re a cabbage head. (Or a Billy as Alex and Brad have taught me).
Let’s just have some clear rules so that not only can the stewards make consistent decisions but also the viewers can play along. The best recent example in recent times is Max in the braking zones. They’ve now finally clarified that to stop it happening so why not decide on other stuff to. Just tell me how far a car has to be up the inside before we have to leave a cars width. Can the inside car brake later on a line that would put them in a wide early exit and expect the car that was leading to jump out of the way. Where in the corner do we decide who owns the corner? With all this doubt I’m not sure we can ever judge any driver for a mid-corner contact. Alonso on the inside of Massa highlights huge flaw in the rules as well. Massa was ahead and took the normal line. Alonso braked later and would have gone wide on the exit. How on earth are we to decide which of these two legitimate lines is to blame for contact. No one is telling. On the podcast we had a racing driver and a broadcaster both of whom are massively experienced and completely disagreed with each other.
The stewards didn’t take any action so it’s fair to say this was an racing incident and it’s hardly rare for cars to make contact in turn 1. However here at the old Spanners place we treat things like a marriage and like my wife we insist on assigning blame even when there’s no need.
The debate I had after the race was against site writer @Negus44 (Chief Hamfosi). While we both acknowledge that Vettel has had some shocking moments this season. He insists that Seb was not to blame here. His argument is below followed by my riposte.
The case for the Defence by Fortis @Negus44
During the start of Sunday's Austin Grand Prix, there was an incident at the start of the race at Turn 1, which resulted in a collision between Williams driver Valtteri Bottas and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, which resulted in the latter not finishing the race. But who was at fault for this? Was it Bottas? Was it Hulkenberg? Or was it someone who went unnoticed at the time, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel?
In my whatsApp group, many believed that the main culprit was Vettel, as he drove the corner without due consideration to those around him. However I disagreed with my fellow colleagues, and I believe that Vettel did nothing reckless at the time.
Looking at the picture above, Seb can be seen on the outside of both Hulkenberg and Bottas. It's also clear that he is ahead of both cars with his car now pointed towards the apex of the corner and more than a car width away from the others. So good so far
Roll on a few frames later, Seb still maintains the same trajectory as in the first image. His car is almost a full length in front of Hulkenberg's. But what has changed is the position of the Williams' of Bottas, who has clearly braked later than both Hulkenberg and Vettel.
One of the disagreements we had, was that Seb should not have pinched the apex so much and should have been more aware and left more room for those behind him. But as was shown in the first image, he was ahead of both cars and was entitled to take the line that best suited him.
As we zoom in closer, it's clear to see that Seb had fairly claimed the apex of the corner. But we must pay close attention to the car of Bottas, who was pretty much off the track. It was this move from Bottas that forced Hulkenberg to take avoiding action, which resulted in him hitting the rear left tire of his fellow German. This then had a cascading effect, which resulted in him making further contact with Bottas and subsequently suffering damage that saw him retire from the race for the second year in a row.
Seb has a history of first corner incidents, that goes without saying. But on this occasion I believe he was not at fault for yesterday's collision, as he made no erratic move and is more a victim of reputation rather than culpability.
The Case for the Prosecution by @SpannersReady
For my money turn one, lap one is different to all the others. I would use Kimi’s line as the example of what you should do. Kimi knew that the RedBull behind would be coming up the inside so he fought him by taking a wider apex and pointing to the edge of the exit. In a similar fashion the RedBull on the inside should not expect to be able to run all the way to the edge on the exit as he’s just been given room on the inside. Had Kimi fought the Apex he would have collected Max and looked daft.
This is the choice that Seb made. With TWO cars on his inside on lap one turn one he had to expect that at least one of them would have the inside line. Neither were a car length back and all the way up and down the grid the outside car left space for the inside car… all except one. Unfortunately this is not his first offence this year. His lap one behavior has been increasingly desperate, especially his baffling contact with Rosberg in Malaysia.
This incident is not dis-similar to the contact he made with Kimi in SPA. Seb seems to think he can shut the door on the Apex at the start and expect the inside cars to vanish. How many more times will he have to collect a car on the inside of turn one before he realises it’s not a good idea. He should study how Kimi handles T1 and decide if his outcome was better.