Former world champion Mika Hakkinen has criticised Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari for being behind Lewis Hamilton in the title race despite having what he feels is the superior race car.
Hamilton upset Ferrari at its home race, passing both Vettel and polesitter Kimi Raikkonen to claim victory. His plight was helped by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas holding Raikkonen up at a crucial moment in the race.
Writing on his blog, Hakkinen, who beat Ferrari drivers Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher to his titles with McLaren in 1998 and 1999 respectively, thinks Hamilton’s 30-point lead in the drivers’ championship deserves praise due to Ferrari’s current advantage.
“Ferrari has the fastest car in Formula One at the moment, but Lewis Hamilton has a 30-point lead in the World Championship for Drivers,” Hakkinen wrote. “No one can say that Lewis is there because the Mercedes has a major advantage.
“He is there because he and the Mercedes team are doing a better job. In my opinion, he is leading the World Championship for three reasons. The first has been his natural talent, particularly in the wet, which has meant that he has been able to upset Ferrari’s weekends any time that it has rained.
“The second is that he shows great race craft and does not make mistakes of the kind that Sebastian Vettel has made, especially at race starts. And thirdly he benefits from having a fantastic team partnership with Valtteri Bottas.”
Bottas’ contribution to the race result has been controversial, with Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene defending the decision to let Raikkonen and Vettel race freely at the start by saying the team hires “race drivers, not butlers”. That prompted former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo to respond publicly and say that Michael Schumacher’s championships in the 2000s came using similar tactics.
Hakkinen thinks Mercedes is simply “playing the game” better than Ferrari at this stage of the year.
“Last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix produced a fantastic race, and again it was Lewis who made all the right moves, brilliantly supported by Valtteri. The two Mercedes drivers were able to defeat Ferrari at home in Italy because, from the moment the lights went out at the start, it was clear that Ferrari had two drivers racing each other whereas at Mercedes they worked together.
“Kimi Raikkonen did a perfect job in qualifying on Saturday, and with Sebastian Vettel a little bit late onto the track it meant that Kimi was able to benefit from towing up behind Sebastian on the long Monza straights in order to get pole position,” he wrote.
“This was a great performance from Kimi, but a bad result for Sebastian because apparently, the Ferrari contracts give preference to whichever driver is on pole. If this is true, it was a mistake of leadership and strategy on Ferrari’s part not to sit down with Kimi and Sebastian on Saturday night and plan how to run the race.
“They really did not need to be fighting each other going into the first corner, and when Kimi naturally defended – which he is entitled to do – it put Sebastian off-line. This meant that Lewis, who was in third, was always going to get a really good run at Sebastian on the drive through the next corner, the Curva Grande, and that’s exactly what happened.
“In simple terms, if the Ferrari drivers had not been fighting each other, they could have defended much better from Lewis on lap 1. Instead, they gave Lewis an open opportunity to move into 2nd position, and Sebastian spun off when they touched.
“From then on it was 2 against 1. Lewis and Valtteri against Kimi and this gives a team like Mercedes such a strategic advantage because they know exactly how to the play the game.”
Mercedes also leads Ferrari in the constructors’ championship by 25 points.