Another grand prix, and another Sebastian Vettel victory. In terms of race results, it is now on a par with Michael Schumacher’s 1994 campaign. Five wins and a 2nd place from the first six races. It is difficult to get much more dominant than that.
For the 2010 World Champion, 2011 is looking much easier. Some drivers, like Kimi Räikkönen, lose their hunger after they become World Champion. Others are taken to a new level. When the best driver in the world becomes better, it’s truly scary.
But despite his World Champion status, some still argue that Sebastian Vettel somehow isn’t the best driver.
After all, he has the best car — and that is indisputable. Who can say what Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button might be able to achieve in that awesome Red Bull?
On the other hand, Vettel has the upper-hand over Mark Webber. Vettel’s advantage was marginal last year. But this year he is much more dominant. Comparatively, Mark Webber is struggling in the supposedly all-conquering Red Bull.
Ah, they say. Red Bull favour Sebastian Vettel. Webber must have a different car, says his manager Flavio Briatore. “Each time something happens, it happens to Mark.” That glosses over the kers issues that Vettel has constantly suffered from, along with Webber.
For most of his career, Webber has had more than his fair share of bad luck. That has continued this year. It is nothing more malicious than that.
Question mark over wheel-to-wheel combat
“Oh! But Vettel can’t overtake!” Oh really? I have long found this argument spurious.
Partisan Brits may still fume at his accident with Button in Spa, but in low-grip conditions it can happen to anyone. It was just bad luck that Button happened to be there at the time. All drivers lose control from time to time.
Jibes about the number of wins Vettel has taken from pole are unimpressive too. It is hardly a revelation that it is easier to win a race from pole position than any other place on the grid. But Vettel the idea that all of Vettel’s wins have been plain sailing affairs from pole is just wrong.
Those three crucial passes on his out lap in Spain ought to have put this to bed once and for all. Sebastian Vettel can overtake.
Defensive driving under pressure
Vettel can also soak up the pressure. Also in Spain, Vettel had to fend off a hard-charging Lewis Hamilton. Martin Brundle noted in the post-race analysis that Vettel was modifying his line according to how close Hamilton was to passing. He knew when he needed to defend, and he knew when not to. A masterclass of efficient driving.
Making the most of a bad strategy
In Monaco, Vettel demonstrated that he could make a bad strategy — even a strategy cock-up — work well. The race threatened to unravel during his disastrous pitstop when he ended up on ‘prime’ soft tyres, when a second set of ‘option’ super-softs was apparently in order. Apparently a radio jam caused the confusion.
That could have been disaster for Vettel. But instead, the strategy was modified brilliantly, and it caught strategy masters Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso off guard.
Button went for a three-stop strategy that probably worked in the simulations. Alonso went for a two-stopper. But Vettel held out on a one-stop strategy. It is almost unthinkable with this year’s Pirelli tyres, but Vettel lasted a mind-boggling 56 laps on soft tyres.
Of course, the red flag helped matters. Theoretically, Vettel would have run out of grip sooner or later — certainly before Alonso, who would in turn lose grip before Button. We can never know if that would have been the case.
But I was keeping an eye on the timing screen as the battle was intensifying, and Vettel was normally the second fastest man on track at any one time. His lap times were holding up remarkably well. There was no sign that Alonso or Button were on the verge of actually getting past.
The reality is that Vettel came out on top. Even though the circumstances with the red flag were unusual, the bottom line is that Vettel’s radical emergency strategy paid off as well as it possibly could have. He won the race.
How does Vettel compare to his rivals?
What else has Vettel got to prove? Well, who are the rivals for the mantle of “most complete driver in F1”?
Jenson Button is reliable and smart. But he doesn’t always have the fire in his belly, and consequently his awesome drives are mixed with anonymous tours.
Lewis Hamilton certainly has the fire in his belly, and his talent is awesomely supreme. But his enthusiasm often gets the better of him and he is prone to making massive errors in the heat of the moment.
Fernando Alonso is normally cited as being the “most complete” driver. There is no doubt that he is a formidable talent. And despite not having the equipment to win the Championship in recent years, Alonso remains a joy to watch. His qualifying lap in Spain is just one example of how Alonso passionately drives out of his skin.
But he has also begun to make a few too many mistakes. His errors in 2010 — at China, Monaco, Silverstone and Spa — are well documented.
Alonso remains fearsomely awesome. Just look at his starts in Spain and Monaco to see just one instance where Alonso excels.
But I am beginning to wonder if Sebastian Vettel is now the closest F1 has to the “complete package”. Whether he is or not, his youth alone should be a cause for concern among his rivals. Vettel is currently showing up drivers with masses more experience than him.
If Vettel is still learning, and he is already trouncing the opposition, it boggles the mind to imagine just how good he might become.