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.
Mar 7, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
“It’s not 100,000 from Las Vegas that will be sitting in these grandstands.” – KB
Mar 7, 2014, 4:55 PM EST
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver says that right now, he’s more focused on working with the new aero rules and qualifying format.
Mar 7, 2014, 4:20 PM EST
Crew chief Rodney Childers, driver Casey Mears, and the impact of the new rules package at Las Vegas are all part of today’s show.
Mar 7, 2014, 4:13 PM EST
Kurt Busch’s quest to become the first NASCAR driver in a decade to attempt the “Double” – racing in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, and then flying to Charlotte to compete in that evening’s Coca-Cola 600 – just became even more challenging.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:47 PM EST
Edwards and his Roush Fenway teammates pick up the pace after a slow Thursday test.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:43 PM EST
For the next month or so, don’t be surprised if Greg Biffle starts to act a little like Dracula — a good Dracula, mind you.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
With a full-season ride in the NASCAR Euro Series, 33-year-old Mathias Lauda is set to add to his eclectic resume.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:12 PM EST
If you’re fortunate enough to spend any length of time around him, you’ll quickly find Matt Kenseth has a very dry wit. Think of a cross between comedians Steven Wright and the late George Carlin – just not so over-the-top as Carlin was.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
SBJ report says Verizon will back series for 10 years.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
“I’m sure there’s going to be more tension…But that’s what it’s all about. That’s why these drivers and teams are the best in the world.” – Graham Rahal
Mar 7, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Qualifying format change falls in line with other moves made by IMS/INDYCAR the last several months.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Out go Korea and India, in come Austria and Russia, changes made to the running order, a different season finale – and a new night race!
Mar 7, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
With all but two teams making changes to their line-up and three new rookies, the F1 grid is looking very different in 2014.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:52 PM EST
TV times and talent for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2014.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
What are going to be the main themes for the new Formula 1 season? Be it noses, double points, Bernie or Kimi, it promises to be an exciting one.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
F1 tire supplier confirms eight testing days with teams in 2014, thus avoiding the ‘testgate’ scandal of 2013.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:37 AM EST
Two attempts for Indy qualifying required: one to get in, one to set starting order.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
First target for Hulkenberg is to make it past the first lap at Albert Park, having failed to do so in three attempts.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
CEO refuses to accept knock-down price for title sponsorship following McLaren’s worst season since 1980.
Mar 7, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
No change in the F1 legend’s condition as he remains in a medically-induced coma.
- 5 storylines that could define the 2014 F1 season 1
- Indianapolis 500 2014 Qualifying Format Revealed 5
- Schumacher “still in the wake up phase” 0
- Driver, team owner and now actor: Tony Stewart’s first edition of ‘Smoke is The Bandit’ is released (video) 0
- Chrysler orders nearly 100 pristine Dodge Vipers destroyed 6
- Instead of significant improvement, 2014 starting off the way 2013 ended for Danica Patrick (10)
- Kurt Busch gives IndyCar chance to show they’ve learned lesson on promotion (10)
- Alonso discovers an F1 take on Ellen’s Oscar “Selfie” (6)
- Chrysler orders nearly 100 pristine Dodge Vipers destroyed (6)
- Disastrous day for Red Bull as Vettel manages just half a lap (5)