Tag Archives: Sebastian Vettel

A Tale of Two Drivers

So much for Sebastian Vettel letting up after securing his second straight Drivers championship.  Seven days after his title clinching 3rd place finish at Suzuka, Sebastian Vettel kept his foot firmly on the accelerator, adding yet another accolade to his sparkling season resume with a dominant win at the Korean Grand Prix.  Despite Jenson Button’s best effort to steal the spotlight with his third win of the season at Suzuka and teammate Lewis Hamilton’s pole position at Korea, which ended Red Bull’s streak at 16, the focus of the F1 universe for the past two weeks has rightfully been on Vettel.

If you asked a knowledgeable F1 fan to name the top three drivers on the grid, it’s likely that Vettel and Hamilton would be on their list.  Before Vettel became the youngest world champion last year, it was Hamilton who owned the distinction.  While the two have had slightly different career arcs, they are essentially at the same stage in their F1 careers: both are past(or current) world champions, both are firmly cemented at top tier teams, and at 26 and 24 years of age for Hamilton and Vettel respectively, they have yet to enter their prime.

In his rookie season back in 2007, Hamilton nearly pulled off the improbable, coming a point within winning the Drivers championship, and quite honestly should have won the title if not for a few ill fated driving errors and his highly volatile and ultimately destructive relationship with teammate and at the time reigning double world champion Fernando Alonso.  Alonso subsequently left McLaren after just one season, which left Hamilton free to assume #1 status within McLaren, who were understandably quite ecstatic to see their prized protege deliver immediate dividends on a decade’s worth of support and tutelage. Hamilton followed up his scintillating inaugural season with a more consistent performance in 2008, and in one of the most dramatic finishes in an F1 season, won his first Drivers championship at final race of the season(and literally final corner) at the Brazilian Grand Prix.  At the time it seemed all but certain that Hamilton would eventually displace Alonso as the youngest double world champion, but the only true certainty in F1 is if you stop moving forward, you’ll be left behind.

It was also in 2008 that Vettel announced his arrival as a force on the grid when he secured the first pole position and race win of his young career at Monza.  While his race result came as a surprise, it was clear that his sheer talent and speed was more than hype, and the higher ups at Red Bull promptly promoted Vettel from Toro Rosso to the senior Red Bull team at the end of the season. While 2009 was largely dominated in the first half by Jenson Button and Brawn GP, Vettel and the Red Bull RB5 was the faster combination in the second half of the season, foreshadowing their future success.  2010 was a season of peaks and valleys for Vettel, but ultimately he was the star of the final act, securing the DC with a pole position/win double at a yawner in Abu Dhabi.  Fast forward to today, and 2011 has been the Vettel show, with everyone else playing a supporting role.

While Vettel largely robbed the 2011 season DC race of any drama, his dominance has made this season one for the ages.  His 10 race wins and 12 positions are still within striking distance of Michael Schumacher and Nigel Mansell’s records respectively of 13 wins and 14 pole positions.  But what really distinguishes Vettel’s season as one of the greatest ever has been his consistency.  With no retirements and race finishes lower than 4th place, Vettel unofficially is on pace for the greatest season ever in terms of average race results.

In contrast, British racing hero(and hoon) Hamilton’s season has been one characterized mostly by moments of inconsistency and impatience.  Racing incidents at Malaysia, Monaco, Canada, Hungary, Belgium, Singapore, and Japan all negatively affected his race outcomes, and it’s likely that for the first time in his career he will be outscored by his teammate in the DC.  Hamilton went so far as to admit his career path has “driven off a cliff.”

One of the neverending points of debate in F1 is who is the fastest driver of their era.  The reason for this phenomenon is the inherent nature of F1 competition: the unique design of a car by a manufacturer.  Unlike other forms of motorsport, every F1 car is different, from manufacturer to manufacturer, and season to season.  An old adage in F1 is a driver’s primary competitor is his teammate, because they are the only ones with identical equipment.  So while the Vettel/RB7 combination has been undisputably faster than the Hamilton/MP4-26 pairing, it’s not an apples to apples comparison.  F1 fans were painfully teased earlier this season with a potential Vettel/Hamilton union after Hamilton met with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, but it’s unlikely that the two will be teammates in the foreseeable future.

Somewhat prematurely looking forward to 2012, it’s highly probable that next year’s world champion will be a repeat champion, with Vettel, Hamilton, Button, and Alonso as the candidates.  Alonso and Ferrari have written off 2011, having already declared they are focusing on developing their car for 2012.  Alonso as the previous youngest double world champion will be keen on challenging Vettel for the title of youngest triple world champion, and despite his comprehensive skill and speed, el Matador faces an uphill battle to reel in Vettel’s snarling Red Bull.  Button took a step forward this season with his pace and consistency, and his confidence seems to be greater than ever.  But at 30 and 31, Alonso and Button are in the twilight of their careers, and they now face a different race in the one against Father Time.

Vettel and Hamilton are the present and future of F1, and their budding rivalry could end up being the greatest ever.  For one driver this season has been the best of times, for the other the worst of times.  In an age of wisdom and foolishness, in a season of light and darkness, both drivers now look forward to the future, as will always F1.

MP

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King Vettel Reigns Supreme

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.

MP

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The Coming of the Vettel Era?

For the majority of the first eight races this season, F1 fans have been witness to the now all too familiar Sebastian Vettel finger point.  Not that anyone’s counting, but we’ve been subjected to a grand whopping total of 38 finger points, 22 for each pole position and 16 for his race wins, with the bulk of them in the past two years.  Because of the nature of sport and fandom, naturally some F1 fans(and very likely non-Vettel fans) recently voiced their distaste for the finger point.  It’s one thing to be passionate about sport and to be loyal to your team, but airing grievances over a finger?  It’s not like it he’s flipping the bird at us!  Or is he?

Vettel, at the ripe young age of 24, has already set numerous F1 records, most of them under the “youngest to do so and so” banner.  While it’s too early too predict if his career will be as prolific as his countrymen and predecessor(and now backmarker) Michael Schumacher, it’s a safe bet that he will be a multiple world champion by the time he retires.  Like most race car drivers, Vettel is known for his cocky attitude and methodical approach.  But he’s also more approachable than Schumi ever was during his reign, and all in all he seems like a good guy(He even likes ping pong, so brownie points there).  Vettel is also known for being borderline obsessed with achievements like fastest lap time, number of laps lead, and perhaps most significantly, most wins by a driver in an Adrian Newey designed car, which is currently at 15.

Newey is arguably one of the greatest technical minds in F1’s history.  He is the only designer to have won Constructors Championships with three different teams, and the majority of his success has been in the modern era of F1 during the past two decades.  He is currently the Chief Technical Director of Red Bull, and his RB7 in the hands of Vettel seems all but certain to secure another pair of Championships this season.  Newey was the first designer to implement the blown diffuser, as introduced in the RB6, and the controversial and soon to be banned off-throttle blown diffuser design in this season’s RB7.  If there’s someone to blame for the lack of drama in the Drivers Championship race this season, it’s Newey, and not Vettel that we should be pointing the finger at.

Ironically, Newey spent the majority of his career battling against Schumacher and fellow car designer Rory Byrne when the two were at Benetton and Ferrari.  Now Newey has his own Schumi in Vettel, and the Red Bull duo seem poised to lay siege to F1’s trophies for years to come.  But it’s highly unlikely Vettel will be able to achieve the same level of domination Schumi did with Ferrari from 2000-2004.  Ferrari during their modern renaissance were able to operate in exceptional circumstances, with practically unlimited technical and financial resources.  An example of this was Ferrari’s exclusive technical partnership with tire provider Bridgestone, which allowed both parties to specifically optimize their designs to complement each others.  Fast forward to today, with a sole tire provider, stricter enforcement of design regulations, and the prospect of a team dominating F1 seems practically impossible, and not so coincidentally unattractive for the sport.

The last time a driver had this dominant a start to the season was in 2009 when Jenson Button stormed to 6 wins in 8 races.  But the 2nd half of the season was a different story, and it was only until the penultimate race at Brazil did Button secure the Drivers Championship and the Constructors Championship for Brawn.  But his midseason downturn(or early season advantage depending on how you look at it) can be explained by the midseason implementation of the double diffuser by Brawn’s competitiors.  With no longer a distinct advantage, Brawn in terms of pure speed was usurped by Red Bull in the 2nd half of 2009, and since then it’s been all about Vettel and his snorting Red Bull racer.

Mirroring 2009, Red Bull face their own challenges with the previously mentioned ban of the use of off-throttle engine mapping in their blown diffuser, but the difference this time is the elite teams started at at even playing field at the beginning of this season and will most likely be evenly handicapped by the ban.  Even if you’re an optimist and a non-Red Bull fan(which I coincidentally am), the chances of a driver challenging Vettel for this year’s Championship is growing dimmer with each race, which means Vettel will become the first back to back Drivers Champion since Fernando Alonso did so in 2005 and 2006.  It’s not about conceding defeat or giving in, it’s acknowledging the reality that unless the other teams accomplish some drastic, we’ll be seeing a lot more of this future, so we might as well get used to it.

Actually, the damn thing is starting to irritate me.

MP

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Preview: A New King is Crowned

So for those of you who missed it, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing won his fifth race of the year at Abu Dhabi, and in doing so became the youngest World Champion in F1 history.  While the race itself couldn’t have been more anticlimactic and quite frankly the most boring of the season, the storylines surrounding it provided all the drama worthy of an epic sporting tale.  I promised you posts on the Korean Grand Prix, the penultimate race at Brazil, and the finale at Abu Dhabi.  Part 1 will come tomorrow, followed by the next two in the next couple of days.  2010 was a season for the ages for F1, and worthy of revisiting and preserving in the worldwide blogosphere.

MP

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