Jonny Rockilff. A life-long Motorsport fan writing for GPFocus and regularly giving his thoughts on its podcast, often enjoying making references to Formula One from "back in the day". Follow him on Twitter at @SilkCutJag1985
August 16th, 2012 (F1plus / Jonny Rockilff).- Reigning double World Champion Sebastian Vettel hasn’t had the easiest defence of his crown in 2012. The young German has so far had three pole positions but just a single race victory, at the Bahrain Grand Prix nearly four months ago, and has increasingly struggled to come to terms with not being a country mile out infront of everybody else, like he had become accustomed to in 2010 and 2011. To add to the increasing frustration his team-mate Mark Webber has enjoyed a significant resurgence in form having won at the Monaco and British Grand Prix with the Australian ahead of Vettel in the Drivers Championship by two points.
In the wake of the exhaust blown diffusers being outlawed for this season, a concept that Red Bull pioneered and exploited heavily, it was inevitable that the Milton Keynes based outfit were not going to have things their own way. Fernando Alonso currently leads the Drivers Championship by forty points from Webber, with the Spaniard driving consistently and at his peak, which is starting to look increasingly a comfortable lead. With nine races still to go, the field as close as ever and the unpredictable nature of this season the gap to Alonso can still be easily clawed in with a good run of form, so why is Vettel struggling to take it on the chin?
Given Red Bull and Vettel’s domination of the 2011 season it is only natural for it to feel unusual for both team and driver to not be leading by a huge margin race in race out, however the German has been involved in some incidents where he has completely lost his cool. The first of which I talked about after the Malaysian Grand Prix when he called Narain Karthikeyan a “cucumber”, after colliding with Karthikeyan’s HRT, the Indian driver later hit back at Vettel by calling him a “cry baby”.
After Red Bull brought significant upgrades to the RB8 for the European Grand Prix Vettel dominated qualifying by qualifying four tenths clear of Lewis Hamilton and then building a large lead during the race, which neither Hamilton or Romain Grosjean could reduce, however a collision between Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen saw lots of debris strewn across the track causing the FIA to deploy the safety car. This evaporated Vettel’s lead and just after the restart an alternator in the RB8′s Renault engine failed, dropping the German out of the race.
The same fate would then befall Grosjean’s Lotus, also using a Renault engine, not long after but Vettel angrily threw his gloves against the metal fencing whilst walking back to the pits. After the race Vettel hinted that the FIA deployed the safety car to “break their neck” and Red Bull’s Dr. Helmut Marko echoed similar sentiments. The comments however were many steps too far and Hans-Joachim Stuck, President of the German Motorsport Association, warned both the team that their comments were “unsportsmanlike conduct” and Vettel should “learn to be a good loser”. Even if the FIA did do such an action it would be ironic that the chain of events was caused by a petulant move from Vergne, who is a “Red Bull” driver himself, driving for Toro Rosso.
Vettel has not had the best of form when racing on home soil and he is yet to win the German Grand Prix. After qualifying second at Hockenheim and then pursuing Fernando Alonso for most of the race the red mist began to descend once again when Hamilton, having dropped a lap down the order after picking up a puncture in the early laps from debris, was tactically deployed by McLaren to legally harass Vettel and Alonso in order to allow team-mate Jenson Button to close in. Hamilton succeeded and unlapped himself by passing Vettel, a legal move which did allow Button to get closer and undercut the German during the subsequent pit stops. On the penultimate lap Vettel had managed to close back up to the British driver and overtook him, however he completed the move outside the track on the asphalt run-off and was given a twenty-second penalty after the race as punishment. Following the race he then called Hamilton “stupid” for unlapping him, however Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had no qualms with the move and felt it was perfectly legal.
At the Hungarian Grand Prix, in the midst of the controversies over Red Bull’s ride-height adjusting “switch” and the banning of their special engine maps, Vettel’s temper reached sizzling point once again during the race whilst stuck behind Button’s McLaren. With the Hungaroring proving once again notoriously difficult to overtake on, even with DRS on the main straight, Vettel became frustrated and demanded his team to “do something to get him ahead” of Button, by pitting him to change tyres and undercut Button, however his race engineer ‘Rocky’ bluntly informed him that they couldn’t as there was no gap on track to feed him back into, in order to take advantage of fresher tyres and perform an undercut. With Horner having defended Hamilton’s unlapping move on Vettel the week before there is a feeling that Red Bull are going to get tired of the German if the complaints keep on coming during the remaining nine races.
Even at the age of twenty-five Vettel is idolised by many aspiring young German drivers, much the same way he and the current generation of German drivers will have idolised Michael Schumacher throughout their junior careers, nobody will want to see the next generations behave like bad losers, call each other cucumbers, or even bring Motorsport into disrepute. If Vettel continues to behave the way he has done when not winning many will start to forget about the good qualities of his driving, especially those which made him the reigning World Champion.