Last season, Sebastian Vettel won his third world title in a nail-biting finale in changeable conditions at Interlagos. In 2013, he faced few dramas as he wrapped up the title with three of the 19 races remaining. Here’s how Vettel won his fourth world title.
Multi 21, Seb
Red Bull demonstrated the best outright pace in Australia and Malaysia, but with Ferrari and Lotus getting one car ahead of Vettel in Australia, the signs were that Vettel would have a fight on his hands for the title. In Malaysia, damp conditions forced the drivers to start on Intermediate tyres and when Vettel came in prematurely for slicks, Webber took full advantage by staying out until the track sufficiently dried and re-emerged from the pits in the lead. Webber made his final stop late in the race and came out narrowly ahead of Vettel, with the duo battling through the first sector. The ‘Multi 21’ order was issued but Vettel kept racing and snatched the lead from Webber with 10 laps remaining. A contrite Vettel attempted to appease Webber in the post-race press conference but in China had changed his tune, saying “the bottom line is I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won.” Vettel took the points, but his reputation took a battering. After the title was secured, Adrian Newey admitted that Vettel was in the wrong; “he knew he shouldn’t have done it and perhaps he got himself a bit tongue tied in his excuses,” he said.
Early season consistency…
Amid the furore from the Multi21-gate, Vettel continued to collect points. He pulled off a decisive victory in Bahrain by dispatching with the fast starting Alonso on the first lap and doing the same with race leader Nico Rosberg a lap later. That win was sandwiched by two races where the front limited nature of the circuit hindered Red Bull’s chances. Vettel started the Chinese Grand Prix from ninth on the grid but climbed to fourth and finished right behind podium finisher Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull couldn’t match Ferrari or Lotus in Spain and Vettel was forced to switch to a four stop strategy, which netted him fourth place. Vettel collected second place in Monaco after having to nurse his tyres behind the dominant Rosberg.
…while rivals falter
Vettel only won two of the first six races – only one of the on pure merit – but nonetheless left Monaco with a 21 point lead due to his consistency. For while Alonso had also bagged two victories, a couple of issues cost the Spaniard valuable points. Sublime wins in China and Spain were contrasted with a lap one retirement in Malaysia and a DRS problem in Bahrain. Mercedes’s slow start left them with a large deficit while Lotus continued to struggle when grip was at a premium. Titles are rarely won in the first part of the season, but they can be lost. Vettel’s early season momentum left his rivals playing catch-up and mounted pressure on Ferrari.
Canadian jinx beaten
The low downforce nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve had proved to be a jinx for Red Bull prior to 2013; in 2010 Vettel and Webber were distant contenders, while a year later Vettel lost the lead after that infamous last lap mistake in drying conditions. High tyre wear also cost him in 2012 so in 2013 he was all the more determined to win in Montreal. Vettel took pole position in wet conditions and pulled away from the field in the race, surviving an early scare when he brushed the wall at turn four. Vettel eventually won by 14 seconds; it was a sign of things to come.
Vettel has finished 15 of the 16 races in the top four and his only failure came at June’s British Grand Prix. In a crazy race where tyre failures marred the event, Vettel jumped Rosberg at the start and subsequently took the lead when Hamilton suffered a puncture on lap eight. Vettel kept Rosberg at bay but suffered a gearbox failure with 11 laps remaining, leaving him on the side lines. But the result of the tyre failures was that Pirelli replaced steel belts used in the tyres with Kevlar. The change coincided with the traditional Pirelli theme of teams understanding the tyres mid-season, allowing the cars to run closer to their truer potential. Those modified tyres aided Red Bull, but it coincided with the team having a greater understanding of the characteristics of the RB9 and a move to circuits that better suited the car.
Vettel received a frosty reception in Canada and Britain but finally won at home in Germany, much to the delight of the crowd. Hamilton beat Vettel to pole position but the reigning champion took the lead at the start of the race, shadowed by Webber. The latter dropped out of contention following a disastrous stop but Vettel continued to be hounded by the Lotus drivers. A mid-race safety car bunched up the leading trio, with Vettel and Romain Grosjean pitting for the third and final time on lap 41 and Räikkönen following suit eight laps later. On fresher tyres, Räikkönen got through on team-mate Grosjean and began hunting down Vettel. Ultimately, Vettel held off Räikkönen’s advances and came across the line a second clear, despite suffering from a KERS problem.
Vettel finished on the podium in Hungary but arrived in Belgium with a comfortable championship advantage. He lost out on pole position to Hamilton but when the Brit made a mistake at Eau Rouge, Vettel seized on the error and breezed into the lead. Vettel promptly romped into the distance to claim his second Belgian Grand Prix win. A couple of weeks later at Monza, Vettel took pole position and eased to first place. The reception from the Ferrari fans was vitriolic, but Vettel took the booing in good nature. If Vettel could win at high speed Monza, would he be beaten for the rest of the season?
Vettel’s traditionally strong end of season form continued this season as he was seldom troubled across the Asian flyaway races. Vettel wasn’t headed in Singapore or Korea and rarely looked under threat for the win at either event. But Singapore was a crucial race: Red Bull had previously struggled comparatively at the high downforce circuits in 2013, but had no such problems at Marina Bay. “The circuits we had as we got into the second half of the season suited the car, we hadn’t fully got on top of the high-downforce front-limited circuits, such as China and Barcelona in particular,” said Newey. “By the time we got to Singapore, we managed to get on top of the high-downforce areas we’d struggled with a bit earlier in the season.” Vettel had to battle for the victory in Japan but nonetheless made a crucial pass on Grosjean to ensure he finished at the front. He racked up the points and sealed the title in India after securing his sixth successive win. Alonso finished as runner-up for a few races but was unable to match Vettel and has recently slipped off the pace. Neither Hamilton nor Räikkönen could mount a consistent challenge. But with Vettel in such imperious form, it didn’t really matter. The German has taken 80.5% of the points this year by claiming 322 of the 400 available. If he wins the remaining three races, he’ll trump his record points tally from 2011.