2019 Chinese GP: Leclerc vs Vettel

Ferrari was in the middle of a controversial decision once again in Shanghai. The team instructed Sebastian Vettel to overtake Charles Leclerc on lap 11 and that had repercussions for the rest of the race. Were Ferrari right to give such an instruction? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Overall race

Straight to the point. By lap 11, and after removing the laps that had the Virtual Safety Car (VSC), Leclerc had been slower than Vettel on average by only 19 thousands of a second. We may argue that perhaps Vettel was indeed faster, and that he was being held back by Charles.

From lap 12 until lap 18, when Vettel went into the pits for new tires, Vettel once again was faster than Leclerc, by an average of less than a tenth per lap (0.088 seconds per lap to be more precise).

After the first pit stop from both drivers, it gets harder to compare their data since they ended up on different strategies. While both of them used the same compounds (medium, hard, medium), they put them on different laps, skewing our data. I added to the graph the mean times for each driver for each of their second and third stint, but their numbers are not directly comparable necessarily.

While observing the data, especially Leclerc’s final part of his second stint and the last stint, it seems that perhaps Ferrari pitted Charles a little too late at lap 42, when his times where starting to increase. Leclerc’s final stint was very fast, with a mean time of 1:36.049, and perhaps with an extra two or three laps he may have been able to put at least some pressure on Max Verstappen.

At the end, on average, Sebastian Vettel was faster than Charles Leclerc by .294 seconds per lap, with the virtue of having the best strategy compared to his teammate.

Delta per lap

Comparing the delta on each of the laps that both drivers had in common, meaning only laps when both were on the track at the same time, shows us how even were they. In fact, before lap 11 when Leclerc allowed Vettel to overtake him (you can see lap 11 as the big negative blue bar), we pretty much cannot see any difference at all. After lap 11, Vettel was slightly faster than Leclerc for a few laps, before getting into the pits. Laps 12 to 17 show that Vettel was able only to pull away by 0.53 seconds before going into the pits.

After the first pit stop, Vettel indeed got much faster than Leclerc, beating him by an average of 3 seconds per lap for 2 laps. However, once Leclerc went into the pits, the trend was reversed and the Monegasque was faster than Vettel for 8 laps in a row.

We see the trend happening once again after Vettel’s second pit stop. He came out of the pits doing very fast laps and beating Leclerc by an average of more than a second per lap, and then again we see Charles reversing the trend after his second pit stop.

In the end, and after removing lap 11 which is considered as “abnormal”, Leclerc was faster than Vettel on 29 laps, accumulating a delta of 11.645 seconds. Vettel was faster than Leclerc on only 16 laps, however, he accumulated a larger delta of 17.068 seconds.

Average pace distribution

The average page distribution shows us that both drivers were in fact very even. Vettel’s first quartile and median were faster than Leclerc’s (1:36.660 and 1:37.447 vs 1:37.015 and 1:37.756). This means that Leclerc’s 25% fastest laps would have been only in the top 38% of Vettel’s fastest laps.

Other than the difference in quartiles, both drivers were still very even, with their fastest laps being almost the same. Vettel’s fastest lap was a 1:34.835 done in lap 37, while Leclerc’s fastest lap was a 1:34.859 done in lap 45.

Conclusion

All 3 charts show us that Leclerc and Vettel were mostly even during the race. While the average lap pace of Vettel was faster than Charles’ by almost 3 tenths, we must consider that the strategy for Charles was not optimal.

My opinion on Ferrari’s decision, to allow Vettel to overtake Leclerc on lap 11, is that there was not enough pace difference to give such an important instruction. By that lap, there was practically no difference between both drivers, and during the laps after the overtake, Vettel was never able to pull away. After lap 12, he only managed to extend his lead by a total of only 0.53 seconds, showing that the pace difference between the drivers was almost negligible up to that point.

In the end Ferrari made a Ferrari-like decision. There is nothing wrong with trying to maximize the points for a particular driver in order to try to challenge for the Driver’s World Championship, however I believe that it was still too early in the season to send such a strong message to Charles Leclerc, especially when his pace was on par with Vettel’s.

I hope that you enjoyed this article, let me know your opinions in the comments below.

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