You can place it in the optimism camp but Ferrari are set to enter the US Grand Prix with a 10-spot grid penalty leveraging a new engine for the final three races. We’ve seen this before with Red Bull who were intent on taking a hit at a track they felt would not be their best opportunity in favor of a few tracks that may be.
I spent the morning with Sebastian Vettel and he gave me a few hot laps in a Ferrari F12 which was simply incredible. I’ve done the F1 two-seater at the same circuit and I must say that Vettel, in a F12 road car, was even more incredible. If anyone can take a 10-place penalty and make ground, it’s Seb.
Vettel said that it’s a bit of a hit here but the upside is that Ferrari are making even more progress and that’s a good sign as well as positioning them for potential victories at the remaining races.
Sebastian said he also doesn’t like a car that has understeer. He feels frustrated by it and having to wait for a car to do something is not his cup of tea. He said that he knows there are guys on the grid who like that and they can work with it but for him, it is a real hindrance.
Was coming to Ferrari a complete change in the way his driving style is and how the chassis works? Not at all, he was actually surprised at how little he had to change to accommodate the car. He said the car does what he asks it to do and that he was concerned initially but completely surprised when he got there and found the car to be very manageable.
So what’s he like? He’s actually a really nice guy. He interviewed me as much as I interviewed him. He was keen to know where I was from and once I had explained the giant arch in St. Louis, he understood exactly. He asked us what cars we drove, and when I told him about the FBC website, he said, “oh wow, well then you know more than me”. Clearly not true at all but very nice of him to say.
I asked Seb about the difference in working with Total at Red Bull and now with Shell at Ferrari. He was very fair about his praise of how hard Total works but said that Shell’s presence is so much more profound and how they work with the drivers, their research and how much input they ask for is a whole new level of commitment. He said that the drivers can feel the gains that Shell makes with their fuel and lubricants and I was a bit surprised by that.
Knowing how hard Shell works on their V-Power Nitro+ and PurePlus products, it wasn’t a complete shock that he felt their presence much more in the Ferrari system and in an upcoming podcast, you’ll understand more about how Shell’s new, extended relationship works.
Seb’s driving is incredible! His late braking, hard turn-in and ability to rotate the car was simply nothing I have ever experienced before. I can’t recall how many times I thought we were not going to make it and we did. Keep in mind that the track was wet and there were puddles and he had just a couple laps prior in which to acclimate himself to it. He’d never driven the circuit before. He then gave hot laps and was 10/10’s. I’ve not seen anything like it.
I know many may say well he won in the best car, folks I am here to tell you that it is all arm-chair philosophy, this guy is otherworldly my friends. He is in a zip code all his own and there is no doubt in my mind that I may have just been driven around a track by arguably the best driver on the grid.
One thing I noticed immediately was his reflexes. How quick he could make minute adjustments to the wheel. The economy at which he braked and turned was so far beyond my ability, I wasn’t even sure I could properly take it all in. It’s one thing to see it on the screen but when you’re in the car with him and feel what the car is doing under his control, well, that’s quite a different thing. When you can feel the car physically, and feel what it should be doing and what he makes it do…quite honestly it is difficult for me to describe but what I can say is that it is a defiance of your reality when it meets the reality of a man who has mastered a craft and disrupts your world with his. For a brief moment, everything you know about physics is systematically and violently re-written in what was truly a moment too fleeting.
I told Seb that I am probably the only guy here that would like to do the laps at 20mph because I had a lot to ask him. He smiled…and floored it! That’s Seb and I think the guy having the most fun today, was the 4-time champion himself.
I will hopefully get video for all of you soon but I wanted to share my experience as soon as I could. Not that I will ever forget it but that you might enjoy hearing what it really is like to ride with Sebastian Vettel.