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.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:27 PM EST
The Virgin Racing pilot takes top honors in a 75-minute practice session ahead of qualifying and tonight’s Putrajaya ePrix.
Nov 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EST
Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team had to go through a lot in 2014 to win the Sprint Cup title. NASCAR AMERICA’s Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss.
Nov 21, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Kevin Harvick’s four-tire call late at Homestead proved to be the difference in his title-clinching victory last weekend. NASCAR AMERICA discuss how pit strategy made an impact.
Nov 21, 2014, 4:48 PM EST
His Athenian Motorsports team will switch to Chevrolet and get Hendrick engines for its dual programs.
Nov 21, 2014, 4:15 PM EST
A quick primer on F1′s pit stops.
Nov 21, 2014, 4:01 PM EST
This is Fast & Furious stuff.
Nov 21, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
Marcos Ambrose’ V8 Supercars ride revealed.
Nov 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
You say you need a NASCAR fix? Well, don’t worry, Friday is the final installment of our NASCAR America – Scan All 43 episodes, entitled “NASCAR America: Scan All 43 – Championship Edition.”
Nov 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
Lewis Hamilton sent out a statement of intent during practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix today, beating Nico Rosberg in both practice sessions.
Nov 21, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Replacing Tom Kristensen will be no easy task at Audi.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:45 PM EST
Electrical failure in FP2 robs the Spaniard of some much-needed track time after sunset in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Hamilton and Rosberg leaving nothing in reserve as they fight for the F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
The six-time champ says a title victory for Ryan Newman last weekend at Homestead “would have been tough to swallow for the sport.”
Nov 21, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
Emerson Fittipaldi to a race a Ferrari F458 Italia in Brazil next week, plus two PWC notes.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
McLaren junior driver becomes the first in GP2 history to score four poles in a row.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Part two of the championship profiles sees us take a look at Nico Rosberg’s rise through Formula 1 and to within reach of the world championship. Can he follow in his father’s footsteps and win the title?
Nov 21, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Red Bull junior driver picks up the championship in Abu Dhabi, and is now targeting a move up to F1 in 2015.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
In the first half of our articles profiling the championship contenders, we take a look at the leader, Lewis Hamilton, ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Stewards in Abu Dhabi penalize the Frenchman after changes are made to his engine on Friday.
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Friday 0
- Jimmie Johnson: Kevin Harvick winning Sprint Cup title was “the right thing” 14
- 2014 F1 championship showdown preview: Nico Rosberg 0
- 2014 F1 championship showdown preview: Lewis Hamilton 0
- Hamilton quickest in second practice for Abu Dhabi GP 0
- First blood to Hamilton in Abu Dhabi as he tops FP1 0
- F1 Paddock Pass: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (VIDEO) 0