Sebastian Vettel has has suffered a woeful 2020 F1 season, and has struggled to get to grips with his Ferrari for years. So the question is, what is causing an experienced driver such as Vettel to spin so much?
As always, you can find the video's full script below in case you would like to read about certain details.
Why did Vettel spin so much at Ferrari? (full script)
All F1 driver's spin occasionally. It's just part of finding limit.
However, for Sebastian Vettel, it happened a lot in races - especially in fights with other drivers. So the question is: Why did Vettel spin so much during his time at Ferrari?
Most of Vettel's spins happened on turn-in under braking, and that's the key thing to note as it helps us to understand what went wrong. As you brake, the weight of the car is shifted to the front, and the grip on the rear quickly reduces. Which is fine in a straight line however when you turn in at the same time you quickly exceed the grip boundaries of the rear tyres, and end up going into a spin.
Single seaters like F1 cars are set up extremely aggressively, more so than any other type of car. This makes the car very agile to reduce understeer, but also makes them quite twitchy.
So why would Vettel struggle with something as simple as unloading the rear of the car too much? As we know, he's a four-time F1 World Champion, so what changed since his glory days with Red Bull? Perhaps the issue lies at the back of the car.
Vettel thrived during the years of clever rear downforce tricks such as blown diffusers making the most of it by breaking deep into corners. However, recent cars have lacked the same rear downforce at low speeds that Vettel works best with. Compare that to his ex-teammate Charles Leclerc, who's comparatively struggled less with adapting to the lack of rear downforce present in the scuderia's cars.
That explains why Vettel struggled with turn-in oversteer in general, but why was he so often unable to save himself from going into a full spin? F1 cars rely heavily on aerodynamic components to generate the grip required to keep them going around corners at such high speeds - but that generated downforce is dependent on two fundamental aspects - namely stability, and air quality.
Let's start with stability. F1 cars drive almost as if they're on rails, making the most of the air flowing around them in a very controlled way. However, the moment the car goes sideways ever so slightly like in Vettel's examples, the carefully engineered airflow is negatively impacted and the downforce drops away quite quickly.
On road cars on the other hand, where airflow isn't as much of a controlling factor, the grip drops off in a much more linear, gentle way, meaning it's much easier to control the oversteer.
However in F1, that downforce level drops quite suddenly, and this is why it is virtually impossible to drift an F1 car at a high speed. The grip levels just fluctuate like crazy depending on the angle of the car. So that's one reason, Vettel simply pushed the car too far and by the time you're sideways in such a high downforce car you have already entered a spiral of diminishing downforce.
But that is not the only reason for the spinning. The last nail in the metaphorical coffin that destroyed vettel's chances of saving the car was often the air quality in front of him. Not only was Vettel lacking downforce thanks to the car being at a sub-optimal angle, but the air that was coming through to his car was affected by what is known as dirty air.
An F1 car's aerodynamic components rely heavily on the air hitting the car in a very specific way, and this so-called dirty air describes the unpredictable airflows left in the wake of a car right in front of you. So when that air hit Vettel's wing, it could not be utilized to its full potential - creating even less downforce.
So now we can see that it was a combination of multiple factors that meant some of Vettel's small mistakes ultimately led to big spins. However, as we know Vettel is a very successful driver, so the question remains: Why did he get into those situations in the first place?
Some of the spins seem to stem from quite desperate attempts to overtake in situations that just didn't warrant it. This is perhaps down to the supposed instability of the Ferrari chassis, as even Charles Leclerc has struggled at times to keep the car in shape. Or perhaps it is an issue with confidence, as the cars just didn't have the same rear stability as Vettel's title winning Red Bulls.