Sebastian Vettel was tipped by many in the paddock to succeed at Aston Martin after leaving the seemingly toxic environment at Ferrari, but his debut race weekend with the newly rebranded team was one to forget.
Vettel was expected to struggle in the season-opener, as he completed the fewest number of laps of anyone at pre-season testing due to a series of mechanical problems on his AMR21.
But still, few were expecting him to have such a miserable debut with a team that has always punched above its weight.
After qualifying in P18 due to him getting caught out by yellow flags on his final Q1 run, Vettel was demoted to the back of the grid for a yellow flag infringement.
He finished the Bahrain GP in P15 after making some progress in the early stages of the race, but it was clear to see that Aston Martin’s 2021 car is nowhere near as competitive as its predecessor (according to team principal Otmar Szafnauer, cars with a low-rake aero design philosophy like theirs have been hit hard by the regulation changes.)
The low point of Vettel’s race was his collision with the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, which was entirely the four-time World Champion’s fault.
Speaking a day after the race, 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill said it is “awful to watch” Vettel endure such a difficult period in his career.
“It’s like watching that Mexican game at the party, the pinata. He is getting beaten to a pulp,” Hill said this week.
“What’s happening to him is awful to watch. I do feel something has got to shift in his psychological constellation.
“He needs to see a mystic and go and have some sort of evil spirit removed from him. He’s done something wrong to deserve this.
“I think there is some sort of psychological balance tipping point thing. And I think that if you feel on your heels, if you feel a little bit tentative about anything, it’s like a rugby tackle, you cannot go in half-baked.
“And he’s feeling like that the punishment he’s been getting. And the bruising he’s been getting has been worrying him. I’m afraid it just gets worse, it has to be a kinda jettisoning of all those bad, negative feelings.
“Once he’s done that, he’s got all the ability in the world. He could race at the front with Lewis and with Max.”
Commenting on Lance Stroll’s performance at Bahrain, Hill said he had a “stellar weekend” despite the team’s 2021 car being weaker than its predecessor.
“He has put Sebastian Vettel in his box comprehensively,” Hill added.
Earlier, ex-F1 racer David Coulthard said he believes Vettel could be sacked by Aston Martin mid-season if he is comprehensively outperformed by Stroll.
“I just don’t see how he’s going to rediscover that mojo,” Coulthard said.
“I think he’s an asset for the team in terms of experience, a safe pair of hands in terms of bringing the car home, but I think once you lose that little bit of speed.
“I do wonder if it’s a part of brand building, not only for Aston Martin but also for Lance Stroll, because if he can beat a four-time World Champion that will become a justification for why he’s a Champion in waiting.
“If he does to Seb what Charles [Leclerc] did to Seb, then I just don’t see how he [Vettel] can finish the season,” he concluded.