Motor racing-Vettel scores only penalty points on Aston Martin debut

Alan Baldwin
·2-min read
Bahrain Grand Prix

By Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) -Sebastian Vettel scored only penalty points on a nightmare Formula One debut for Aston Martin on Sunday that did little to banish the bad memories of an error-prone last two years at Ferrari.

The four times world champion had picked up three penalty points before he lined up last for the season-opener in Bahrain, with stewards punishing him for not respecting waved warning flags in qualifying.

Handed a five-place grid drop, he then collected another two penalty points and a 10-second time penalty for causing a collision with Alpine's Esteban Ocon in the race.

The total of five penalty points meant the 33-year-old German, who finished 15th with only rookie Mick Schumacher behind him on track, was nearly halfway to the 12 in a year that trigger a race ban.

Vettel had initially appeared to blame Ocon for the accident, shouting over the radio: "Why did he have to change line?".

Stewards, however, found after reviewing video evidence and telemetry that he was entirely to blame for smashing into the rear of Ocon's car.

Vettel joined Aston Martin this year with hopes of restoring some of the lustre to a reputation that took a battering once Monegasque Charles Leclerc arrived at Ferrari as his team mate and started to outperform him.

The weekend's events instead left Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer, whose Canadian driver Lance Stroll finished 10th, on the defensive.

"The car he's driving now is totally different to the car he drove before," he said, of a driver who completed the least laps of anyone in pre-season testing.

"He only really felt happy with the car, getting to grips with it and making set-up changes that suit him, in qualifying when he had the yellow flags.

"It's really early days... so I'm still confident we'll get Seb there."

Mexican Sergio Perez, the experienced driver Vettel replaced and who was making his Red Bull debut, started the race in last place from the pit lane and finished fifth.

Pressed on Vettel's performance, Szafnauer preferred to focus on the positives.

"He had to start last, he was running in the top 10 for a while, he felt good in the car... his lap times were not dissimilar to Lance's," said the American.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)