February 16th, 2013 (F1plus/Briony Dixon).- Despite winning three consecutive driver’s titles, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding how good a driver Sebastian Vettel really is. Achieving something only previously attained by Juan Manual Fangio and Michael Schumacher should have set him apart as one of the most talented drivers in the history of the sport. However, out of all the current drivers, it is Fernando Alonso who holds this accreditation. The enigma behind Vettel’s success needs to be unravelled to reveal the true picture.
Spending his three victorious years driving the most superior car on the grid, and one designed by aerodynamic virtuoso, Adrian Newey, throws up the conundrum about whether his talents stretch further than being able to deliver in an outstanding car.
In 2010 there was no doubt that the RB6 was the best car. Sebastian clinched the title closely run between himself, team mate Mark Webber, and Fernando Alonso in the final race in Abu Dhabi. It was the first time he had led the championship race all year. Luck had certainly been smiling on the young German as Vitaly Petrov held Alonso and Webber up, allowing Robert Kubica to rejoin in front of them following his pit stop, gifting Vettel the victory and putting him four points clear of Alonso in the Championship.
2011 was a year completely dominated by Vettel; an easy victory sparking talk about whether his abilities were limited to leading from the front. In a more closely fought championship however, 2012 affirmed his talent in overtaking. Starting in the pit lane in Abu Dhabi due to a breach of the rules regarding the amount of fuel left in the car after qualifying, he incised his way through the field finishing third. His unfortunate incident on the opening lap in Brazil that left him nursing a damaged car for the entirety of the race, gave him another opportunity to prove his worth as he made up eighteen places to finish in sixth. Despite showing that he does possess skill in overtaking, he did so in the best car on the grid, meaning that the cloud of enigma hasn’t entirely dissipated.
An attempt frequently made to solve the mystery of Sebastian Vettel is the comparison between himself and team mate Mark Webber. Webber hasn’t been able to match his young counterparts success, however the notion of Mark being a number two driver at Red Bull is one that, although unsaid, continues to make itself apparent. His comment, “Not bad for a number two driver” comment following his win at Silverstone in 2010 is now infamous. This was a win he achieved despite being impeded by the team’s decision to remove his front wing in favour of Vettel, and the comment confirmed his number two status. More recently, Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicalli has cast doubt over whether the team mates are given identical machinery. No one is denying Sebastian Vettel has a remarkable talent, perhaps of a higher class than that of Mark Webber, but when given superior machinery is it clear to tell how much higher?
Often talked about as the best ever to have driven an F1 car, Juan Manuel Fangio won five championships with four different constructors; a feat achieved by seeking out the teams with the best cars. Fangio is described as exuding style and grace in his driving and there must be no disputing he must have been heavily laden with talent in order to secure a drive with the team fielding the most superior car each season. However, following the teams that can provide a car guaranteed to win a World Championship, or staying with a team who can deliver the same promise, reveals an unease about their own talent.
At the time of his tragic death at Hockenheim in 1968, Jim Clark was the most decorated driver of all time, having clocked up the most wins and pole positions. He experienced times when the car was far from competitive, particularly in 1966 due to regulation changes, a season in which he still took a victory and finished sixth in the Championship. He was renowned for being able to drive and take victories in all sorts of cars and series, showing an innate ability to metamorphasise his talents to the needs of each car, but he also showed that he was able to achieve success in a car that was far from the best. Such traits are not possessed by Sebastian Vettel. At the beginning of the 2012 season, Mark Webber was outperforming his team mate because it took the German longer to get used to the RB8.
It takes talent, and strength of mind, to go to a team with a car still requiring development. Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso both proved expertise in their craft by moving to Ferrari at a time when the car wasn’t competitive. Lewis Hamilton has taken the first steps to affirming his flair and skill with a move to Mercedes. Recently, Adrian Newey made a comment about the lack of input Sebastian Vettel have on the car. Clearly there with the sole purpose of driving the car, will he ever be able to move to a team to support development as Schumacher did at Ferrari, or as Hamilton hopes to do at Mercedes?
With the most authentic example of his actual talent arguably being his win at Monza in 2008 in an uncompetitive Toro Rosso, it would seem that no matter how many titles he wins, an air of ambiguity surrounding his real talent will continue to follow Sebastian Vettel all the while he remains within the comfort of Red Bull. Although yet to prove whether he has made the right move, Lewis Hamilton has shown he has the confidence to move to a team not leading the pack. If the mist of mystery surrounding Vettel is to evaporate, maybe he should follow Lewis’ example, demonstrating faith in his own talent. After all, if he doesn’t, why should anyone else?