Well well, so much for any speculation that Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull would play it conservative for the remainder of the 2011 season. Following Jenson Button’s spirited win at Hungary, a small glimmer of hope remained that someone on the grid would step up to make a wholehearted challenge on Vettel’s death grip on the Drivers championship. And as any true champion would do, Vettel responded in the next three races with a devastating showcase of pure speed and race management, taking a trifecta of pole positions and race wins at Spa, Monza, and most recently at Singapore in the lone night event on the F1 calendar. As it currently stands, Vettel would have to go pointless for the rest of the season and his nearest challenger in Alonso would have to win every race to take the DC, which pretty much means Vettel will retain his title and become the youngest double world champion. So before it’s official, let’s take a look at his form over the past month. First off we head to Spa, where Vettel took his first win on the classic circuit tucked away in the Ardennes forest.
The irony at Spa was Vettel was so far ahead of the field that the only times he was the focus of the tv cameras was at the start and end of the race. It’s almost as if they expected him to cruise to victory. Which is exactly what he did. Bah, on to Monza!
Meh, more of the same. Vettel was out-drag raced by Alonso at the start of the race, but he promptly responded with a sublimely awesome pass on Lap 3 and never looked back. Take a look.
Finally, over the past weekend Vettel took his first win at Singapore under the glitz and glamour of the night sky. To be honest, the race was over before it even started when Vettel took his 11th pole position of the season in Saturday’s qualifying session.
The last time a driver was this dominant over the course of an entire season was in 2004, when Schumi was in his glory days at Ferrari. Schumi that season won a record 13 races, but interestingly enough took only 8 pole positions. Vettel, who stands at 9 race wins and 11 pole positions, has a slim but realistic chance of matching or beating Schumi’s record, along with Nigel Mansell’s record of 14 pole positions. Granted Schumi and Mansell set their records in 18 and 16 races respectively, but that doesn’t diminish Vettel’s record worthy accomplishments this season. And you also have to take into consideration his performance was against three other top tier teams in Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes, not to mention teammate Mark Webber. Vettel’s season compares to another athlete’s in Novak Djokovic, who arguably had the greatest season in men’s tennis history in 2011, winning three Grand Slam titles, 5 Masters wins and finished the season with an absurdly sparkling record of 64-2.
Vettel’s and Djokovic’s achievements this season are in my opinion are even more impressive than those of the record holders in their sport’s respective pasts for several reasons. As a general rule, competitive levels in sport have increased with the passage of time, which makes it more difficult to sustain an extended period of dominance over the competition. And with the astronomical salaries, endorsements contracts, and general demands of being an international celebrity, it’s easy to lose focus on the task at hand. Vettel is in that respect a throwback to the past, with no supermodel/singer celebrity girlfriends or high-profile management teams. Vettel is a pure racer, and arguably the best in the field today and quite possibly of all time. While he may have robbed the 2011 season of any drama in the DC, his supremacy now makes him undisputed king of the F1 universe. The real focus now is on 2012, as most of the field have conceded this season to Vettel. Ferrari, the most storied team in F1 history, was the first to acknowledge their deficiencies this season, admitting they need to revamp their entire approach to car design in order to challenge Red Bull. And even then there is no guarantee that Ferrari or any other team will be able to bridge the gap to Vettel and Red Bull in the foreseeable future. This is F1, the fastest sport in the world, and if you’re not moving forward, you’re just a fading image in someone’s mirrors.