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The curse of being a champion

Sebastian Vettel became the youngest four-time Formula 1 Champion; all consecutive, an impressive feat that has found admiration and of course, detractors.
Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th, 2013 (F1plus/K. Grimmett).- Racing drivers are complex creatures; often categorised as a group, their own individual quirks can sometimes be ignored. However you ask them what their aims are and the answer is simple, a variant on the phrase: “to win and to be a champion”.

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Being the best of the best is the reward of a fast car, a talented driver and an unbeatable strategy whilst the benefits include an increased sense of confidence and the poise such a title can bring. Watching Kevin Magnussen be crowned Formula Renault 3.5 champion at the Circuit de Catalunya was incredible; his performances were largely unrivalled and unchallenged this year. As a member of the media that weekend, I was given more access than most to his behind the scenes life.

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He was articulate yet still unable to comprehend his victory. Talk of a Formula 1 seat with either Marussia F1 or McLaren continue to dominate the headlines, a sign that the natural progression between championships can be enjoyed by some. However, for many racers, the climb to the top is much more intricate than that.

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Sometimes, being crowned champion can garner an additional response, one which sees the sport become complacent and ruthless in its selection of drivers and legends.

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In India, a place where he remains unbeaten, Sebastian Vettel was crowned champion for a fourth consecutive time. Amidst the booing from fans, who crave a closely-fought title battle, a natural born racer was cemented into F1’s history. It seems as if Vettel was more popular when he was a fresh-faced youngster waiting to prove the potential we see today.

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With each race won, each championship secured and each record broken, Sebastian Vettel pays a price in fan popularity from those who want to see his rivals win. The booing is not a positive sign for the sport - not least because the fans are what hold it together. For Vettel, the boos are a sign of fan frustration and a rejection of the dominance we see today. In this sense, Vettel is experiencing ‘the curse of being a champion’.

This may sound like a strange statement to put forward, however winning multiple championships now, and in this type of dominant fashion, does not garner the same response it once did. My favourite driver of all time is Jim Clark though I understand that his two championships do pale into insignificance compared to the careers of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher.

The repeat of Schumacher-esque dominance and attitude from his successor, Sebastian Vettel, is not proving to be particularly popular with some portions of F1 fans.

Prost leads Senna at the start of the Canadian GP in 1988 (Lat Photo)

The likes of Prost and Senna are remembered as champions and, dare I say it, legends, something the 1988 season helped to establish.

The MP4/4, the iconic McLaren-Honda of 1988, was arguably the most formidable in the sport’s history holding many a record. 15 wins from 16 races secured its place in pretty much every hall of fame going, but the dominance of the symbolic drivers at the helm of the McLaren was, and has subsequently been, rewarded.

The talent of Prost and Senna is never disputed and questions over their talent have rarely arisen but now attitudes are changing.

Holding such a poignant title as “champion” can bring many to applaud a meritocratic rise through the ranks of Motorsport to reach the top – Jenson Button’s 2009 victory with a resurrecting Brawn GP is an example of this.

However, for Sebastian Vettel, wins garner sighs and frowns. Can you criticise a driver for achieving his ultimate goal and performing his job to its record-breaking finest? It seems so.

For Sebastian Vettel, the story is, of course, very different to that of Button. A precedent has been set and failure to win the 2014 championship could result in many criticising his performances and drop in form. However, yet another title could bring even more sighs and grunts of frustration; this almost unprecedented level of success is now an exception, not a prediction.

No pressure, Sebastian!

Championships are the goal but they bring few guarantees. For the latest crop of upcoming Formula 1 drivers, a mixture of wins, funding and the correct contacts will get you considered. Beyond that, there is nothing more you can do.

As for me, whenever I think of champions, I think of the moment I stood with Kevin Magnussen in a small media hub as his Formula Renault 3.5 title victory began to sink in. That is a moment which will stay with me forever.

The day a boy racer became a Formula 1 contender.

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