Sebastian Vettel claimed his third straight title in Formula 1. Coming down to the final race in a tight battle with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the two drivers were fighting to be crowned F1’s youngest triple winner ever – Vettel at 25 years of age, and Alonso at 31. Proof that the feat doesn’t come easy, or at a young age.
Vettel obviously took the championship, winning by just three points and the closest margin since his first title, when he edged Alonso by just four points in the last race in Abu Dhabi in 2010. The difference there saw Vettel take the race win, snatching glory from Alonso, who only managed to place seventh. This time he was lucky to escape after a first lap incident that saw Bruno Senna spin him out, then launch overtop of his rear-wheel. He escaped unscathed, and showed maturity putting in consistently fast lap times to ensure the championship.
What is incredible about Vettel’s performance is how fast he was able to win his three titles. Doing it in a row is impressive, but he beat the venerable Michael Schumacher by six years. Think about that.
Schumacher’s tenacity on the F1 circuit was a force to be reckoned with. He was cocky, arrogant, and used it to fight his way to the drivers’ championship in 1994 and 1995 with Benetton, his fourth and fifth years in the sport, respectively. In 1996 Schumi proved his driving talents after moving to Ferrari, finishing third in ’96 and second in ’97, until he was relegated to last place after the infamous Villeneuve collision that saw the Canadian take the championship in only his second season. Schumacher’s dominance, including a record five-straight championships with Ferrari began in 2000, but that third title came at 31 years-old.
Vettel started his F1 career in 2007 and in 2009, he moved from STR-Ferrari to the team’s bigger brother, Red Bull Racing-Renault. In just his first season replacing the legendary David Coulthard (who finished 16th the season before), Vettel surprised everyone with second place in the championship, just 11 points behind Jenson Button. His second season was the start of his championship run we are still on.
Like Schumacher, his first and second titles came in his fourth and fifth seasons, but the differences came this year, when Vettel was able to complete his third victory in his 20s. Was it his car? Was it his engineer, the highly respected Adrian Newey?
Many people are quick to point out Vettel’s weaknesses and his dependence on a strong car, but the young German was able to leapfrog his teammate Mark Webber, who finished third in 2010 and had a head start with the Red Bull car since 2007. Criticize Webber too if you wish, but he has been a consistent driver throughout his career and a great wingman, if anything else.
The fact is, Vettel seems to be at one with his car. Attitude aside, he knows how to push it, where to push it, and when to take advantage. Of course, his team has also done a great job adjusting strategies, especially in the wake of his pit lane start in Abu Dhabi, and the final scare in Brazil this year. But Schumacher and Ferrari also clicked simultaneously from 2000 to 2004, and his record-setting performances have placed him among the best drivers of all-time.
But the chemistry came later in the show for the seven-time champ, while Vettel appears to have everything in place for years of success to come. With wins for the taking, the true comparison between the fellow German drivers will only be seen after Vettel proves he carries the same winning spirit for at least four more titles.
Photo: Glenn Dunbar/ LAT Photographic