(Sebastian Vettel is the youngest double-world champion in F1 history)
It’s funny how sometimes, not even dominating a sport for four years straight can cement your place in the pantheon of legends. Sebastian Vettel, world champion in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, and winner of 39 races, is statistically one of the best, but question marks remain over him.
It might seem harsh, but to some observers (myself included), Vettel is yet to prove himself outside of his comfort zone. He has spent the majority of his career at the incredible Red Bull team, who have given him great cars year after year, and he has not had a teammate who has truly pushed him either (until 2014 at least).
I have plenty of respect for him. As I’ve said on message boards, you don’t win four titles – least of all four in a row – by being a talent-less hack. He has competed against some stiff competition and he has held his own when he’s needed to, but all too often he has not been properly challenged, and therein lies the rub.
(Vettel at the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix, which he would win)
Whereas Alonso worked his way up to a top team, and has proven himself at more than one team, and whilst Hamilton had a baptism of fire in having then-reigning champion Alonso as a teammate in his debut year, Vettel hasn’t really been put to the test. His defenders will point to his 2008 victory for Toro Rosso at the Italian Grand Prix, in rain-soaked conditions (never easy), but one win does not add up to the same degree of accomplishment as his rivals. It is worth noting that the car suited the track well, with Vettel’s teammate Sébastien Bourdais qualifying fourth, underlining the car’s performance that weekend. Vettel has not, up to this point, consistently delivered good results in an average car (like Alonso did in 2012).
That said, Vettel is very good at ensuring he does not waste his advantage. He rarely makes mistakes and is generally very composed. It has been suggested that he likes to complain and whine when things aren’t going his way, and whilst this may be true to a certain extent, this makes him no different to most of the other drivers. As a final thought, it should also be pointed out that, when the stakes were high and the chips were down, he fought his way from the back of the field at the 2012 Abu Dhabi and Brazilian Grands Prix, to score major points – points that won him the title. Not every driver, even with the best car, can do that.
It is also noteworthy that Vettel is stepping outside of his comfort zone next year. He is joining Ferrari, who have struggled considerably more than Red Bull in 2014, and, barring major changes, are not going to be challenging for major honours next year. This move is quite a brave one, and it will give Vettel the chance to silence his doubters and perhaps, finally, prove himself.