Red Bull RB8 2012
Sebastian Vettel is the current alpha male in the Formula One paddock, as of 2013 capturing four consecutive World Championships and totally rewriting the F1 record books. Vettel began the 2007 racing season in the World Series by Renault. But when Robert Kubica was injured in a massive shunt during the Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel stood in for him at Indianapolis and finished 8th in the USGP, becoming the youngest F1 driver in history to score a championship point (at the age of 19 yrs, 349 dy), a record previously held by Jenson Button. That auspicious debut was a sign of great things to come. Moving to Scuderia Torro Rosso the next year, Vettel astonishingly dominated a wet Italian GP, taking pole position and leading almost flag-to-flag to win. In turn replacing David Coulthard at Red Bull Racing in 2009, the German ended as runner-up in the drivers’ championship. He won four times, including another dominant wet-weather victory at Shanghai, which echoed his maiden win at Monza.
The 2010 season was his break-out year. With an incredible Adrian Newey-designed chassis, Vettel was rarely off the front row of the grid and started ten of 19 races from pole. An exception was in Turkey, where teammate Mark Webber was leading the race when Vettel attempted a controversial pass on lap 40 that ended with both Red Bulls colliding; Vettel retired but Webber recovered to finish 3rd behind eventual race winner Lewis Hamilton. This led to much mid-season gossip to the effect that Seb’s youth was coupled with driving immaturity which would imperil his chance to take the F1 title — that he was a mistake-prone, not ready for prime time under-achiever. That was somewhat unfair, as Vettel started the season on the font row for five consecutive races, suffered from mechanical failures and managed to drive his RB6, almost without brakes, to a masterful 3rd place at Catalunya. In any event, he proved the pundits wrong. Later in the season Vetel hit a rich vein of form, growing into the role of championship-caliber racer in the second half, scoring six podiums in the last nine races. Even so, Seb was the 3rd-ranked title contender heading into the season finale at Abu Dhabi. But as rivals Webber and Fernando Alonso hit trouble, Vettel claimed his 5th win of the year to snatch the World Championship by four points in a dramatic turn around.
Seb Vettel did not just became the youngest driver in history to win the F1 World Drivers’ Championship in the gathering darkness of the Yas Marina Circuit that November evening. He also scored his first back-to-back race win; became the second German to take the title; the first man since James Hunt (1976) to win the title on the day he took the points lead for the fist time; and only the second driver since 1950 (Kimi Räikkönen the other, in ’07) to jump from third to first on the day he became champion. Add Vettel being the youngest Formula One driver to score a point, to lead a race, to take a podium and to win a race and you have a very special driver at a very special time, provocatively wagging his “No. 1″ finger as a sign of confidence, not bravado.
Vettel is a modern Fangio, really, in Formula One. I can’t see, other than his natural ability, how he is that good, how he can be that good.
— Stirling Moss (2012) —
Quick out of the box, the 2011 Red Bull RB7 proved unstoppable in the hands of the young German sensation, who utterly dominated qualifying (15 poles, besting Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record) — only starting off the front row once, in Germany — races (11 wins, only one time not finishing on the podium) and laps (leading an all-time best 739) to become the youngest two-time F1 World Champion. Despite his victory the previous year, Vettel’s driving had been rather erratic at times and he made mistakes. In 2011, however, it was apparent from the beginning that Vettel had improved and was much calmer, far more mature. He was very controlled and just seemed always to get on with it, even when the races were difficult. Whatever doubts remained were extinguished as Vettel mastered yet another set of new technical rules — this time introducing a moveable DRS (Drag Reduction System) rear wing, together with mandatory KERS and rapidly degrading Pirelli tires — to capture the laurels with an altogether brilliant performance. He was so dominant at times that season it made you want to cry, because no matter how hard anyone tried, they just couldn’t catch him.
Vettel becoming, at just 25, Formula One’s youngest triple champion was an easy prediction to make following his incredible 2011 performance, when the German ran away with the title and Red Bull Racing were simply unbeatable. It looked considerably less likely as the F1 circus headed off for its summer break the next August where, after 13 rounds of the longest-ever 20-race season, Seb still had only one victory to his credit and was a daunting 42 points off the lead. Vettel’s four consecutive wins in Singapore, Japan, Korea and India, a superior mid-season streak (in which the German led every lap for three straight races) that belied an otherwise riveting display of unpredictable 2012 race results, turned the trick. In what was be one of the most dramatic final-day races of all-time on a slippery surface, Vettel completed the job at Interlagos despite a first-lap collision with Bruno Senna. As others, including Hamilton, fell by the wayside, Vettel managed to drag his car into 6th place and stay three points ahead of 2nd-place Alonso. Inevitably, the talk must turn to Vettel; but what is there left to say? The facts speak for themselves — youngest pole sitter, youngest race winner, youngest World Champion, youngest double Champion, youngest triple Champion…the list is endless. Vettel’s statistics vaulted him into the realm of legends, bettering both Jim Clark and Niki Lauda with 26 career wins and moving easily into 3rd place all-time with 36 pole positions. The fact that Alonso and Ferrari ultimately lost out by only three points, and actually outscored Vettel in the final three races by 10 points, underlines not only what an utterly fantastic season Alonso had but also how unlucky he was not to win it, even in what was at best the 3rd fastest car. The Brazilian Grand Prix was a race of incredible ebb and flow, twist and turn, and Vettel’s race had more of these than most. Nevertheless, by the end Seb was just close enough to secure his third world title. Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull did it yet again, scoring their third drivers’ and constructors’ World Championships on the trot, but it was far from a foregone conclusion.
While Vettel won again, impressively, in 2013 — smashing Schumacher’s record for consecutive season GP victories with nine on the trot, matching Alberto Ascari’s 1951-’52 run — whether he will continue to dominate under the radically new technical regulations scheduled for 2014 remains to be seen. But we are plainly witnessing a racing driver who is already the stuff of legend in Formula One.
|Sebastian Vettel’s Career Profile|
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Other Sebastian Vettel Sites
Formula1.com Hall of Fame
BBC’s Greatest F1 Drivers
AutoSport—F1′s Greatest Drivers
ESPN F1 Profile
Sebastian Vettel Video