Oct 14, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT
Respect and admiration for a driver’s achievements does not necessarily mean one has to like it.
Case in point, I respected and admired almost everything Michael Schumacher did in his era of dominance from 2000 through 2004. But, purely as a fan, I couldn’t stand the notion that more than half the time, I went into a race knowing what result was going to happen.
It was going to be a combination of brilliance from Schumacher behind the wheel coupled with strategic calculations played to perfection from Ross Brawn on the pit wall, and of course culminating with the German and Italian national anthems on the podium.
And so, this Monday, we are still firmly entrenched in Sebastian Vettel’s era. A different era, for sure, in terms of how Formula One has evolved since then – but not different in one driver and one team’s ability to extract the maximum performance and results from its machinery.
The first half of this year, sure, the Red Bull didn’t have the single-lap pace of the Mercedes and relied as much on Vettel’s guile and determination as outright pace to secure wins. Four wins from 10 races heading into the summer break was still the most in the field, but it wasn’t as outright dominant as he had been in 2011 or as in any of Schumacher’s years.
Then the summer break happened, and for four consecutive races, Vettel Clinics were re-introduced to the field. Blitzing starts, often from pole, and with more than one second gained after the first lap or two (often two seconds plus), Vettel basically already had the race won. He had enough of a lead to where second place couldn’t use their DRS, and so long as Vettel sustained the gap and managed his tires (and a new, more conservative construction from Pirelli at that, this second half), it was game over.
The stat that stuck out most to me heading into Japan was that prior to this weekend, Vettel hadn’t not led at the end of the first lap since Hungary – a three-month stretch.
So as for his latest triumph in Japan, it was very refreshing to watch. A poor start left him third and needing to follow Romain Grosjean’s strategy, and needing to leapfrog his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. He played the cards right to when he emerged behind Grosjean, he willed himself past rather easily. Once Webber’s strategy was shifted to a three-stopper and he emerged too, behind Grosjean, he couldn’t make the pass in near the amount of time and his tire advantage was negated. Again, game over, Vettel wins.
But here’s why it’s frustrating. We’ve seen so many of Vettel’s 35 career wins where he had limited adversity to overcome, and he could control the race from the outset. Here, the deck was stacked against him, but he still found a way to win. How demoralizing must that be to the rest of the Formula One field who not only don’t have the cars to match a Red Bull, but a talent level behind the wheel also unmatched?
Why else is it frustrating? Fernando Alonso did just enough in Japan to postpone the inevitable, with a fourth-place finish meaning Vettel will likely clinch the title at another soulless Tilkedrome in India instead of at a historical, challenging circuit with a fervent fan base who is knowledgeable enough to appreciate Vettel’s accomplishments, rather than boo him.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that a driver who’s made the most of this new age of Formula One will clinch his fourth straight championship at a type of new age track he’s made a habit of blitzing.
Oh, and heading into India, he’s a perfect two-for-two there with wins from pole and 100 percent of the laps led.
Vettel is an all-time great, to be mentioned in the same breath alongside Schumacher, Fangio, Senna, Prost, etc., no question. You have to give him that.
But he is the face of this new, often unlikeable era of F1, where as the “villain,” his accomplishments perhaps aren’t appreciated in the moment as they will be with time.
That, more than anything, is probably why it’s difficult to like him right now even as he continues his assault on the Formula One record books.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:45 AM EDT
F1 returns from its summer break with first practice at Spa today, live on Live Extra from 4am ET.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, joined NASCAR America on Thursday to talk about the different feeling that Bristol Motor Speedway has and goes over the strategy his team has for the race.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:33 PM EDT
Mazda Road to Indy titles will be decided in Sonoma this weekend.
Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson pace NNS practices; Milka Duno seeks to become first Latina to qualify for a NASCAR event
Aug 21, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson topped Thursday afternoon’s pair of Nationwide Series practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
After the popularity of the team’s drivers, the next most popular thing around Team Penske is The Penske Files, especially editions that contain bloopers. Check out the latest edition of TPF bloopers!
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 6:30 p.m. ET — Steve Letarte, Tennessee racing history, Truck race highlights
Aug 21, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, which airs LIVE at 6:30 pm ET, will cover a lot of ground, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief (and future NASCAR on NBC analyst) Steve Letarte, breaking down and the history of Bristol Motor Speedway and lots more.
Aug 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Russian Grand Prix set to be held in Sochi in six weeks’ time after the track is given a license.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Catch this sneak preview of Off The Grid: Budapest ahead of tomorrow’s premiere.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
As impressive as many of F1’s new builds are, we must remember the likes of Spa and Monza when looking to the future of the sport.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Ferrari’s lead driver has high hopes for the second half of the season.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
The MST writing team makes its predictions ahead of this weekend’s race at Spa.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Hard as it may seem to believe, Brad Keselowski had never won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in his career. That was before Thursday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol, where Keselowski dominated en route to the checkered flag.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT
Finnish driver yet to be confirmed at Williams for 2015, but sees no reason to look elsewhere for a seat.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
All your TV times for F1, IndyCar, Red Bull Global Rallycross and more for this weekend’s motorsports action across NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
Chilton benched whilst his contractual issues are resolved, allowing Rossi to become the first American since Scott Speed in 2007 to race in a grand prix.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
The rescheduled UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway is underway Thursday morning.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Three-time Le Mans winner to make his F1 debut with Caterham this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Sauber driver is open to the idea of a 17-year-old racing in F1, and hopes to be on the grid with him next season.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Compared to F1 hopefuls and/or retreads, seeing a relative outsider in Andre Lotterer make his debut this weekend is a welcome change of pace.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
After a three-week summer break, what better way to welcome Formula 1 back than with the Belgian Grand Prix?
- WATCH LIVE: FP1 for the Belgian Grand Prix 0
- After 62 starts, Brad Keselowski finally earns first career Trucks win at Bristol 0
- F1, IndyCar, Red Bull GRC highlight jam-packed motorsports weekend on networks of NBC 0
- Alexander Rossi to make F1 debut in Belgium, replaces Chilton 6
- It’s official: Tony Stewart to miss Bristol race, Jeff Burton to once again drive No. 14 5
- When — or will — Tony Stewart ever race again? 17
- Andre Lotterer confirmed for Caterham debut at Spa 6