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.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
Official launch of the new car is set for Friday.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:09 AM EST
NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett will join NBC and NBCSN’s coverage of NASCAR in 2015, it was announced Monday.
National Motorsports Press Association honors Lynda Petty, Kevin Harvick and others for service, achievement
Jan 26, 2015, 10:31 AM EST
Richard Petty’s late wife, Lynda, and 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick were among those who were honored during Sunday’s National Motorsports Press Association annual awards banquet.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Lotus hopes to put a less-than-competitive 2014 to rest with the help of its new car.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:36 AM EST
A long layoff has drivers such as Danica Patrick ready ‘to take out this aggression somewhere right now.’
Jan 25, 2015, 11:33 PM EST
A big fan of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. posed a rather interesting question to his Twitter followers: Could NASCAR ever do — let alone consider — a 24-hour race?
Jan 25, 2015, 7:34 PM EST
Nemechek, Elliott victorious in late model doubleheader Sunday at Cordele, Ga.
Jan 25, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Land once earmarked for a new NASCAR track in New York will instead become a big box and manufacturing complex.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Patrick had fun Sunday taking part in a children’s Q-and-A session at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But she’s also ready to start her third full season of Sprint Cup racing.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:44 PM EST
Gordon will be part of a rotation of driver analysts for Fox Sports’ coverage of the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015.
Jan 25, 2015, 3:42 PM EST
Cyril Abiteboul also says Renault is pushing to cut Mercedes’ 2014 horsepower advantage in half by this year’s season opener.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:57 PM EST
Jack Roush isn’t used to being hung up on, but Jeff Gordon’s stepfather and business manager did so twice when the Cat in the Hat wanted to sign Gordon to drive a Ford in 1992.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:22 PM EST
Ganassi back on top at Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:58 PM EST
Rolex Watch USA will continue to sponsor the Rolex 24 at Daytona, a partnership that began 23 years ago, the watch company and Daytona International Speedway have announced.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:15 PM EST
Bill Elliott originally wanted son Chase in a Ford when he began his racing career. But when a deal couldn’t be worked out, the Elliott’s took a deal offered by Rick Hendrick and Chevrolet.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:20 PM EST
Sunday has dawned at the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:05 PM EST
The NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie of the year has been busy helping the No. 02 Ganassi team stay in contention at the Rolex 24.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:14 AM EST
The Chili Bowl champion and future NASCAR K&N East driver assesses his night in a Super Late Model car at New Smyrna Speedway.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:10 AM EST
An early mistake from Ken Roczen shuffled him to the back of the field and resulted in him giving up the points lead.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:55 AM EST
Cooper Webb retained the points lead in the 250 Class but had some pointed words for Tyler Bowers after the race.
- NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to join NASCAR coverage on NBC, NBCSN 0
- F1: Lotus releases images of its new Mercedes-powered E23 1
- NASCAR Media Tour begins today, but drivers still in idle 2
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. ponders a 24-hour NASCAR race 7
- ‘Do you get mad when your boyfriend wrecks you?’ Danica Patrick faces kids’ pressing questions 5
- Jeff Gordon to serve as NASCAR TV analyst this season 19
- Ganassi’s No. 02 Riley-Ford Scores Rolex 24 Victory 3