Sebastian Vettel was forced to settle for third on the grid for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after sacrificing a tow from a rival for track position, something that ultimately meant he surrendered his chance at pole position.
The Scuderia Ferrari driver opted for a clear race track rather than attempting to get a tow down the Baku City Circuit’s long straights, but this gamble meant he was slower down those straights, with the time lost allowing Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to lock out the front row for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport.
Vettel also admitted the lower temperatures as dusk began to fall over Baku hurt Ferrari as they were not able to generate the heat needed into the tyres as they were when it was hotter earlier in the day, something that also allowed Mercedes back into the hunt for the front row.
“It was a tough call in the end,” said Vettel. “When the track temperature dropped the car balance changed and getting the tyres to work for that one lap, especially after such a long straight before starting the lap, was not easy.
“With the clock ticking down, everybody was banking on the last run and getting a tow so at some point I had to make the call; do I prioritise my tyres or the tow? Which would have meant compromising the outlap and I didn’t have the feeling that I could afford that and I wanted to have a clean shot.
“My first Q3 run was ok, but on the second run I didn’t have anybody to tow me along, so I dealt with it just focusing on my lap and obviously I lost quite a lot, about four tenths, compared to the previous lap. But that’s what happens at this track. It was a tricky session.”
Vettel was saddened by seeing team-mate Charles Leclerc crash out of Qualifying during the second segment, but he feels the pace is there in the SF90H for both to have an impact on race day and end Mercedes’ run of three consecutive one-two finishes.
“I saw Charles in the barrier and realised qualifying was over for him,” said Vettel. “It was a shame to lose one of our cars. In the end, we are one team and everybody is working extremely hard no matter which side of the garage you are on.
“Anyway, we need to turn the page as tomorrow is a new day and it’s a long race where anything can happen. As a team we can recover and put our rivals under pressure. Overall I feel we have a strong car so we can go and race hard and should have some fun.”