Oct 14, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
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.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:42 PM EST
New York State’s Empire Racing took the three fastest spots as ARCA completed a two-day open test at Daytona International Speedway.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EST
See NHRA great John Force like you’ve never seen him in this video, shot mainly through the eyes of his grandsons Jacob and Noah.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:16 PM EST
Dr. Dick Berggren will receive yet another prestigious honor in his career. He’ll be inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame in April 2015.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:00 PM EST
The staff at New Hampshire Motor Speedway got into the holiday spirit, caroling with a unique NASCAR twist in a newly-released video.
Dec 20, 2014, 6:29 PM EST
Matt Henderson, Henderson Motorsports, and local businesses deliver presents and gifts to family in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:29 PM EST
Times Square’s ‘ball drop’ will have nothing on Indianapolis as it lowers an Indy Car as the final seconds of 2014 tick off.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Michael Tatoian has been able to help bring additional events to the Monster Mile beyond its two NASCAR weekends.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Carl Edwards was the most sought-after Sprint Cup free agent in 2014. After more than a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards announced he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:35 PM EST
Red Bull Straight Rhythm is a one-of-a-kind event, featuring an “unwound” supercross track and head-to-head racing. Tune in to NBC to see how it all played out.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
BayernLB sues Ecclestone and his family holding for 345 million Euros.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Dillon made a big first impression and then quietly learned the ropes in Sprint Cup.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Clint Bowyer endured the worst season of his Sprint Cup career in 2014. He hasn’t won a race since 2012, but 2015 could be a comeback year for him.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:40 AM EST
Can’t say these sweaters aren’t memorable.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EST
Daughter of legendary Funny Car champ John Force, Brittany Force is out to prove that 2015 will be her year in NHRA Top Fuel racing.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., spent a recent testing day in a Formula 4 car, a possible prelude to following in his famous father’s footsteps.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Edwards’ Arris car won’t be hard to find in a pack next year.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Rare, intriguing call for CGR to put two lesser-experienced drivers in No. 01 car.
Dec 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
Williams’ stellar 2014 season, recapped in pictures and words.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth proved that consistency still pays.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:49 PM EST
The fan-favorite Sprint Experience at NASCAR tracks across the country is apparently no longer, according to a media report.
Video from NASCAR America
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