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.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
Time has not lessened the significance of winning at Indy for these three NASCAR standouts.
Jul 22, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT
The Outlaw returns to Indianapolis for the first time since his Indy 500-Coke 600 double back in May.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:54 PM EDT
The Team Penske pilot is putting up his six-bedroom Miami penthouse for a cool $14 million. Better start saving up…
Jul 22, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
Seeking to catch up with their Ford stablemates at Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing’s trio of Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have been searching for speed in a two-day test session at Michigan International Speedway.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The new, 92-foot pylon is made up of four LED panels capable of video animations that relay race info to fans.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Recapping the future stars of IndyCar in action at Toronto this weekend.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
A report from Mexico says that Bernie Ecclestone has signed a five-year pact to bring F1 to Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez starting next season.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A miserable home weekend in Toronto strikes James Hinchcliffe yet again.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:41 PM EDT
Williams’ deputy team principal on Massa: “He is mature enough – and has enough experience in the sport – to realize that sometimes, things don’t go your way.”
Jul 22, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Given politics, dates and dreams, could an IndyCar race at CTMP be possible?
Jul 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Ex-F1 shoe Jerome d’Ambrosio gets signed up for new FE series.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Kyle Larson’s got a new house, a new kid on the way and now a new Cottonelle ad he might not be able to live down.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:08 AM EDT
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff calls double points “unfair.”
Jul 22, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
MST’s Tony DiZinno recaps the weekend in Toronto, that featured a host of surprises.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:26 AM EDT
The stretch of six races in four weekends is over, as is the stretch of doubleheader weekends for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Here’s the points breakdown.
Chase Elliott keeps winning, but he’s not finished capturing checkered flags this season by any stretch
Jul 22, 2014, 1:38 AM EDT
With the third win of his rookie Nationwide Series career, Chase Elliott continued to make it look easy in this past Saturday night’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Jul 21, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
For Wallace and his Truck Series rivals, racing on dirt presents a different set of challenges – and thus requires a different way to train.
Jul 21, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
In a satellite radio interview, France shared his thoughts on the consortium of NASCAR’s most powerful teams.
Jul 21, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
Jack Hawksworth will co-drive the No. 08 Prototype Challenge car for RSR Racing in Friday’s IMSA event on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Jul 21, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Between his Eldora Speedway hosting the Truck Series and then competing at Indianapolis this weekend in Sprint Cup, Stewart’s in the middle of a busy week.
- Report: Toto Wolff speaks out against F1′s double points finale 4
- IndyCar: Toronto weekend analysis, musings and observations 0
- NASCAR’s Brian France on RTA’s formation: “We didn’t think it was necessary” 12
- Eldora and Indy putting a lot on Tony Stewart’s plate 0
- Todd Gilliland, 14, outdistances father David, grandfather Butch in first time they’ve all raced together 0