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Ferrari’s decision, during the pandemic-induced pre-season hiatus, to dispense with the services of four-times champion Sebastian Vettel’s at the end of 2020, looked like a risky call at the time.

By the end of a season, which saw Vettel record his lowest championship position since he became a full-time F1 driver, it looked like a well-judged call.

How far Vettel’s poor season may have been a product of these circumstances – whether due to the practical consequence of becoming ‘yesterday’s man’ in Ferrari’s eyes, or simply his head dropping – is a matter for conjecture. The matter for these driver rankings is just how bad a season it was for him. And truly, its bright spots were very few and far between.

Having seen Charles Leclerc turn the tables on him over the course of last season, Vettel was walloped by hit younger team mate in 2020. He took the lowest points share of any driver, despite seeing the chequered flag more times than his team mate (though one of his two retirements was caused by Leclerc).

After sixth in Hungary, Vettel struggled at Silverstone

Unlike Alexander Albon or Nicholas Latifi, Vettel managed to snatch a few wins in qualifying over his team mate, though typically by a few hundredths of a second. On average Vettel qualified over four tenths of a second slower than Leclerc, and he made just three of Ferrari’s 14 appearances in Q3.

The upshot was he typically qualified around four places behind his team mate. As the pair usually straddled the Q2/Q3 divide, this meant Vettel tended to enjoy the advantage of starting on new tyres, unlike his team mate. Indeed he started 11th on the grid – ‘new tyre pole’ – twice as often as any other driver.

But this advantage did little to help Vettel tip the balance of power his way. Leclerc finished higher than 10th on nine occasions; Vettel did so just twice.

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Yes, there were times when Ferrari’s odd strategic calls didn’t help matters, or poor pit work spoiled his afternoon, such as at Imola. But Vettel did his own cause no favours at times, spinning during the races at Silverstone and the Nurburgring, and crashing during qualifying in Russia.

Sebastian Vettel

Beat team mate in qualifying 4/17
Beat team mate in race 3/13
Races finished 15/17
Laps spent ahead of team mate 215/800
Qualifying margin +0.405s
Points 33

In an abject season for Ferrari, there were times when Leclerc wasn’t able to beat one of their customer rivals, but this happened considerably more often to Vettel. Had it not been for a late red flag at Mugello he would probably have been beaten to the final point by George Russell’s Williams.

Hungary was one of Vettel’s stand-out performances. He urged the team to fit medium tyres at his pit stop which put him on course for sixth place, though he wasn’t able to keep Albon behind.

The undoubted high point of his final year as a Ferrari driver came at Istanbul, where Vettel demonstrated his class by taking his first podium finish for more than a year in very difficult conditions. This came about thanks to a last-lap misjudgement by Leclerc, as he ran wide ahead of Vettel while trying to take second place off Sergio Perez.

These circumstances take nothing away from Vettel’s performance on that day. But over the course of the race Leclerc had closed in a 44-second deficit to his team mate and overtaken him. Even at the high point of Vettel’s awful season, the scale of Leclerc’s raw performance superiority was hard to overlook.

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2020 F1 season review

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