Season Preview 2012: Vettel aims to join the legends

By on Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sebastian Vettel: Triple world champion. In 9 months time, it seems likely, doesn't it?

A year ago in the season preview for 2011, I wrote how Sebastian Vettel was likely to blow away the opposition and storm to a second world title. After all, he’d suffered mechanical failure and made errors in 2010, from which he would learn. While predictions of Williams taking podiums and Robert Kubica returning mid-season turned out to be wholly inaccurate, in this instance the ominous prediction of Vettel dominance turned out to be accurate. Nevertheless, while envisaging a second title for the young German, few would have thought that his 2011 season would be so extraordinary. Granted, he had the best machinery at his disposal, but the way he utilised it demonstrated all the hallmarks of an all-time great.

He won eleven races out of nineteen, taking fifteen pole positions and 392 points. On occasion, statistics don’t do justice to the greatness of a driver. Yet even when the world title was all but secure, he was still pushing for that final tenth. After he claimed the title in Japan, he was still pouring over data to establish why he could only manage the bottom step of the podium. His team radio after the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he expressed his disappointment at second place, merely indicated a driver who won’t accept anything but perfection. Even after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he retired after an opening lap puncture, he looked through the data to establish what happened, before joining the team on the pit-wall. From there, he watched a full race unfold for the first time in almost three years – his last Lap 1 retirement came when he was knocked out of the 2008 British Grand Prix by David Coulthard – and simply added to his already great knowledge of the sport. In this case he is like a sponge, soaking up as much as he can to add to his weaponry. After all, who was the only driver to visit the Pirelli factory at the end of 2010..?

If you’re a title rival of Vettel, it must be difficult to imagine how to overcome him this season. The regulations have remained fairly stable, while Adrian Newey is still at the designing helm at Red Bull. Success breeds more success, while Vettel is high in confidence having annihilated the opposition in 2011. There are a few chinks in his armoury though, small they may be. Some observers claim that Vettel gained from the exhaust blowing last season – that it suited his driving style as he could throw the car into corners more easily. With that gone for 2012 it could hinder him slightly. It’s a small hope, but it’s hope nonetheless.

Elsewhere, it’s difficult to argue against Vettel being able to play the cards. In qualifying, he is supreme. You can protest about a dominant RB7 all you want, but Mark Webber – who used to be singled out as a one lap specialist – was often nowhere compared to his team-mate last season. Similarly, Vettel played nearly every race perfectly – take pole, smash the opposition in the opening laps to move out of the DRS zone and then simply managed a gap and respond to rivals pit stops. When that strategy failed him, there will still other options he exploited. In China, a radio problem hindered his progress, yet he still managed to hold Lewis Hamilton up for several laps thanks to the way he positioned his RB7 exiting the hairpin. A few races later in Spain, he made sure he nailed the final corner every single lap to keep the McLaren at bay. In Monaco, he made the bold call to make just a single stop and while he was lucky with the red flag period, he still sustained high pressure from two hungry world champions close behind. Then there’s some of the race winning moves he made, not just early in the season but the ones in Belgium and Italy. Mark Webber won all the plaudits for his bold move on Fernando Alonso at Eau Rouge, yet Vettel decided to overtake Nico Rosberg around the outside of Blanchimont. The last man to try such a move found himself wedged under the tyre barriers (Luciano Burti, 2001). A race later, he could have waited a few laps in order to overtake Fernando Alonso. But being Sebastian Vettel, he decided to go around the outside of Curva Grande, casually dipping a wheel on the grass at 160mph. The doubters remain, but they cling to increasingly small pieces of evidence, such as his slip up in Canada. In that instance, it was a poor piece of strategy not to extend his advantage when he had the opportunity thus allowing Jenson Button a sniff of victory.

So often in 2011, the word ‘bubble’ was used to describe the personnel who surround a driver. While the media focused on the troubles surrounding Lewis Hamilton, Vettel has found the perfect blend of public and private. He keeps his girlfriend away from the track and is rarely photographed with her. He maintains a healthy relationship with his father, who is present but doesn’t interfere. These details may appear minor, but they undoubtedly help a driver over the course of a season.

Only two drivers – Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – have ever won three successive titles, while Ayrton Senna remains the youngest driver to claim a third title, when he was thirty years of age. At the tender age of twenty-four and with five other world champions hungry to take his title away, you’d like to think that Vettel may struggle to take title number three. But in all honesty, would you bet against Vettel doing it again? If anything, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take even greater success than in 2011. Niki Lauda has even commented that Vettel and Red Bull are building a team that has a striking resemblance to Schumacher’s golden era at the start of the 21st century, suggesting that the young German could go on to eclipse his hero’s records.

Currently, Vettel is teetering on the border between being an exceptionally talented racing driver and an all-time great. If he has a few wobbles this season, then the doubters will continue to question him. A comfortable third world title would elevate him amongst the drivers who will be seen as legends for ever. While many fans may dislike one driver winning consistently, they may look back on this era and remember how they witnessed the period where legends drove.

Vettel won’t say it, but he knows that he is the benchmark for his rivals. He knows he is the favourite and that he has to deliver. For a perfectionist like him – and one obsessed with statistics – his sights may not be on just another title, but claiming more wins and poles than he did last year.

So Jenson, Fernando, Lewis and co: have fun this year…


These feature articles are written in spare time for the enjoyment of thousands. I'm hoping to be able to attend races this year and report from them as I am to become an accredited journalist. Do you have a 5* hotel or luxury yacht you can lend me? If not, then I've attached a donate button if you feel kind enough to assist me in covering expenses. Thank you.

Donate through PayPal

If you liked this post then share it with your friends on social media websites. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest F1 news.