Sebastian Vettel Executed a Disastrous Mid-Race Tire Switch to Slicks, and the Formula 1 Driver Knew It ‘As Soon as I Left the Pits’

Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel studied the wet track conditions at Istanbul Park. A decision needed to be made — soon.

Like most F1 teams during the rainy Turkish Grand Prix in Tuzla, Turkey on Oct. 10, Vettel and his Aston Martin Mercedes team debated the pros and cons of switching tires from intermediates to slicks.

Vettel’s was the lone team to take the gamble.

Bad move.

F1 driver Sebastian Vettel: ‘I knew it was the wrong decision’

Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel (5) takes a turn during the Turkish Grand Prix last Sunday | Dan Mullan/Getty Images 

Vettel knew it immediately.

“As soon as I left the pits, I knew it was the wrong decision,” Vettel told formula1.com after the race.

When Vettel’s team decided to switch tires on the 36th lap, the motorsports machine was running in 10th position, exactly where it started. Since he hadn’t been able to make up ground with intermediate tires, which were beginning to wear down anyway, it became clear he needed to try something different.

The track was slow to dry, and most of the field was beginning to race on worn tires. The call came for Vettel to make a pit stop.

In came Vettel. Off came the medium tires. On came the slicks.

Oops.

“There was no grip, and I could not make them work,” Vettel said. “… I was really surprised how slowly the track improved.”

The scene was like last year’s Turkish GP when poor tire decisions led the four-time F1 champion to exit pit row and slide off the track a few times before returning to the pits, spinning his way through the entrance.

Crossover points on tire changes are often critical

Intermediate tires are designed for conditions like last Sunday’s.

The track was too wet for slick tires but not soaked enough for wet tires. Intermediate tires are constructed with slightly softer rubber compounds than their counterpart slick tires. They also are cut with shallow grooves, not as deep as wet tires, so heat will not build up too fast between the tire and road.

When racing on damp tracks, F1 teams usually reach a point at which they need to decide to change tires from slicks to intermediates and vice versa. It’s known along pit row as “crossover points,” according to racingspot.pirelli.com.

That moment often proves to be one of the most significant in-race decisions a team can make. Often, it can prove the difference between competing for P1 or sliding off the track.

When that time came for Vettel’s team last Sunday, it proved to be “the wrong call,” Vettel said. “We lost the race.”

Four-time champ Vettel is pointless in his last 4 races

In 274 career Formula 1 starts, Vettel has compiled 53 wins and stood on the podium 122 times.

This season has mostly been a struggle for Vettel. Following the Turkish GP, he sits in 12th place in the driver standings with 35 points.

The tire-change flop last Sunday cost Vettel too much time. He said he had a top-10 ride, but he couldn’t recover, finishing in 18th place. Vettel extended his pointless streak to four races.

Bad gamble. Poor outcome.

“I’m obviously disappointed, having made the wrong call,” Vettel said. “It was tempting to try, but just the wrong decision. So we lost, I think, the (opportunity) for points, maybe one or two — and in the end, we didn’t get any.”

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