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.
May 25, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
After his second triumph in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, he is ovewhelmed by congratulatory messages.
Montoya’s Indianapolis 500 win adds another storied chapter to the Roger Penske-Chip Ganassi rivalry
May 25, 2015, 2:12 PM EDT
They are the only car owners to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same season.
May 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
The Mercedes-affiliated youngster clinches his first win of the season around the legendary streets of Monaco.
May 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
After a miserable run of form, Latvala finally climbs to the top step of the podium with a narrow win over Sebastien Ogier in Portugal.
May 25, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Andretti ends sixth, best of the day for the defending Indy 500-winning team, while Hildebrand leads the one-off drivers.
May 25, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Running inside the top ten, Grosjean’s hopes of points were dashed on Sunday in Monaco when Max Verstappen crashed into him.
May 25, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT
Townsend Bell’s final blog for the Indianapolis 500 touches on family, meeting Jeff Gordon, and a crazy view from the driver’s seat.
May 25, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
A sixth-place finish in Monaco disappoints Raikkonen, but he lays blame with his poor qualifying form.
May 25, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
One of Simon Pagenaud’s best oval races to date ends P10 after running top three most of race.
May 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The win may have come by accident, but Rosberg etched his place in F1 history on Sunday.
May 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The Red Bull boys finish fourth and fifth in Monaco to give the team something to smile about after a tough start to the season.
May 25, 2015, 1:04 AM EDT
Sunday’s winners of the NHRA Kansas Nationals were Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Richie Crampton (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock).
May 24, 2015, 8:42 PM EDT
Video recap of Montoya’s win at Indianapolis 500.
May 24, 2015, 7:47 PM EDT
In his second win at the Brickyard, the Team Penske driver delivered a performance that embodies his style.
May 24, 2015, 7:31 PM EDT
The latest Paddock Pass is now online.
May 24, 2015, 7:24 PM EDT
Once again in 2015, it’s Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing best of Honda’s brigade.
May 24, 2015, 7:12 PM EDT
A good, but not great day, occurs for Indianapolis 500 polesitter Scott Dixon.
May 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Kimball drives from 14th to third, a career-best in the Indianapolis 500.
May 24, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Montoya extends IndyCar points lead after Indianapolis 500.
May 24, 2015, 5:11 PM EDT
Power does what he needs in the Indianapolis 500, but comes up short at the finish.
- Bell: “A wild Indy 500 without the finish we desired” 0
- Rosberg joins Hill, Prost and Senna as Monaco three-peat winners after gifted victory 0
- Ryan: Juan Pablo Montoya comes full circle at Indianapolis 1
- F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO) 2
- Montoya rallies for second Indianapolis 500 victory (VIDEO) 10
- Hamilton: Impossible to express how I feel after Monaco defeat 4
- Rosberg lucks in to third straight Monaco GP win after Mercedes’ mistake costs Hamilton victory 53