In Baku, the long straight means that drivers can get a huge tow and set faster times. With Charles LeClerc out of the equation, Sebastian Vettel needed to rely on other cars or the tow. His idea was to get in the slipstream of the Mercedes duo and get ahead of them.
However, Mercedes had other ideas and somehow tricked Vettel into running alone. Ferrari’s garage is closer to the pit lane exit at Baku, so when Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton went out together, Ferrari reacted by sending Vettel out as well. But then, the two pulled over at the pit lane exit into the area reserved for practice starts. A puzzled Sebastian Vettel simply drove by and lost his chance at getting the slipstream.
The German later said, “It’s always a compromise. If you are too close in the middle sector you lose out. But I would say going with the other people [is] probably around three-tenths [faster]. It could have been a bit closer with somebody in front.”
According to a transcript, the exchange at Mercedes went like this, “We’re going for the dummy at the start if I call it down the pit lane. And remember it’s going to be just a pull-away. Ah, sorry, I’m not going to tell you on the radio. Ah we’re going for that plan. We’ll go for the start. Do not hold for long. As far left as possible. OK let’s go, watch traffic exit. Raikkonen the car ahead.”
Later on, the Mercedes team radioed Lewis Hamilton as well to relay the same instructions. The following conversation ensued, “Follow Valtteri out and be prepared to stop. Normal starting position, normal pull-away. So just follow Valtteri out, and we’ll pull over for a start. So far left as possible, before the dotted line. And we can go again. Just normal pull-away. You’ve got traffic, all clear, go, go.”