Sebastian Vettel has criticised the media for what he feels has been unfair coverage of Ferrari’s implementation of team orders so far in 2019.
The Chinese Grand Prix was the third successive race Ferrari has tried to dictate the order of its drivers on the race track from the pit wall. Early on in proceedings the team asked Charles Leclerc to let Vettel past him as it felt the four-time world champion was quicker — Leclerc initially protested, but obeyed, and arguably lost fourth position to Max Verstappen as a result.
Ahead of the weekend Ferrari had stated the team would continue to favour Vettel in 50/50 situations between its drivers and all three occasions fit in with that mindset. In Australia Leclerc obeyed an order to stay behind his teammate after catching him late in the race, but ignored a similar request early on in the Bahrain Grand Prix to overtake him.
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto defended the use of team orders after the race, while Vettel turned his attention to those asking the questions.
When asked whether he had requested to have Leclerc moved out of the way, and whether he thought doing so would have been fair, Vettel replied: « Well, let’s put it this way, I knew the moment it was happening that I would have to face these questions.
« Not sure I want to answer because I’m a little bit against the way you — all of you — work, because you take bits out of answers here and there and put it into the wrong light. So, if you ask me again in half an hour down in the paddock, maybe I give you a straightforward answer and you don’t write it down or record. Seems the way that, not maybe all of you but some of you are working.
« Yeah, I felt I was faster in the car, I was asked if I can go faster. I answered that I felt I can. I was a bit surprised when I was in free air – not surprised but I was struggling a bit to put the laps together. Once I found a rhythm, I was able to chip away – but yeah, obviously the objective was to try and catch Mercedes. At the point obviously the gap was already quite big. »
Sure enough, the topic came up again later on in the F1 paddock as Vettel suggested it might, when he faced the media alongside Leclerc and Binotto in a Ferrari press conference. On that occasion it was put to him in the context of Mercedes implementing team orders on several occasions in 2018 to help Lewis Hamilton’s title bid.
« I don’t know. Ask maybe Lewis. I think Mercedes has been in a very different situation, but I think it’s not the first time that we’ve seen something like that. Obviously as Mattia said, we try to do everything as a team.
« Last week, or two weeks ago, Charles was faster, and it was quite straightforward, maybe a bit easier to pass in Bahrain. But I think the upsetting thing after the race is that we didn’t manage to finish third and fourth. Obviously I want to be ahead of Charles, he wants to be ahead of me, that’s the name of the game. I’m not keen to expand much further, because it’s always a bit difficult, especially what you make out of the answer afterwards, so keep it there. »
When asked if there was one story he had in mind as an example of a quote being taken out of context, he said: « Not really, it’s just poor journalism in my point of view, but I’m not a journalist to judge, so you shouldn’t take my judgement personally. »
He went on to add that the decision should always be made in the context of what is best for the team.
« I don’t think it’s frustrating. It’s just a pain to answer the same questions over and over. I think the priority always lies within the team, so I think Charles is aware, I am aware that we are driving for the team. We are fighting for our own race, but usually with this kind of stuff, it’s never pleasant, but it’s a bit also what goes around comes around.
« We have so many races, only time will tell whether we did something right or wrong. At the time, you always try to do what is right. I can see that it’s not easy for anyone involved, but as I said, we try to obviously get stronger and fight Mercedes which are currently a little bit ahead. We need to understand why we are behind and work on that so we don’t have to worry about these things. »