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 29, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The impact of the Jeff Gordon Era; a family affair at Indy for the Dillons; thoughts on the Homestead tire test in August.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Carl Edwards, Jack Roush and crew chief Bob Osborne were severely penalized for a missing oil tank container lid after Edwards’ win at Las Vegas six years ago.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT
No. 11 crew chief Darian Grubb suspended for six races, fined $125,000; No. 11 car chief Wesley Sherrill suspended for six races; Denny Hamlin loses 75 championship points, but still in position to make the Chase.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
A look back at Ganassi’s half-decade of dominance at the old-school road course in the Ohio countryside.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: The Top 5 wins of Jeff Gordon’s career; “Scan All 43″ for the Brickyard 400; reaction to Ty Dillon’s Nationwide win at Indianapolis.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Richard Petty and David Pearson were joined on Sunday by Jeff Gordon as the only Sprint Cup drivers to win at least 90 races at NASCAR’s top level.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Between a few days in Texas and auctioning off her race worn Indianapolis 500 helmet, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Pippa Mann and the Susan G. Komen organization.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Chase-eligible teams will have to send a driver not qualified for the post-season to an Aug. 26 tire test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio this week. Here’s how telemetry readings from the track looked 20 years ago.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
After a group of laid-off employees from Caterham announced their intent to pursue legal action against the team’s new owners, Caterham has said they’ll push for a lawsuit against the ex-employees over “gross misrepresentation of the facts.”
Jul 29, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
MotorSportsTalk catches up with Milwaukee IndyFest general manager Kevin Healy of Andretti Sports Marketing for a primer on the level of IndyFest promotion you’ll see at the Wisconsin State Fair, which starts Thursday.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
It’s been a character-building season for the defending World Champions, but things are looking up for Red Bull going into the summer break.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Two charity cars and three comeback efforts highlight the Pirelli World Challenge weekend at Mid-Ohio.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
English rookie Jack Hawksworth has impressed more often than not during his first IndyCar season, and could bag his first win before the year’s out.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
Reports Tuesday indicate Bernie Ecclestone could attempt to pay his way out of his corruption case.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:49 AM EDT
Bernie Ecclestone speaks out against standing starts, and wants them gone for 2015 before they even get the chance to debut.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Roush Fenway Racing faces a period of uncertainty with its younger lineup for 2015, alongside Greg Biffle.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
There have been some massive rises and falls in the F1 points tables comparing the 2014 standings post-Hungary to the 2013 ones.
Jul 28, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Among the possible options: A new steering damper, a thumb/wrist brace adapted from motocross, and energy-absorbing material for steering wheels.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon reflects on fifth Brickyard victory; Joe Gibbs Racing starting to peak; the impact of Carl Edwards’ exit from Roush Fenway Racing.
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