The Champion: Sebastian Vettel
What is there left to say about Sebastian Vettel?
After playing a staring role in the wet Italian Grand Prix in 2008, there was little doubt that the young German would eventually be Formula 1 World Champion.
While the skills required to take the ultimate prize needed time to bed in and take shape, the talent was certainly present.
One could argue that this should not have gone down to the wire and that Vettel should have claimed the title some time ago. Failures in Bahrain and Spain dropped him down the order; while his races were ultimately ended in Australia and Korea through no fault of his own. On the other hand, valuable points were also lost following accidents in Britain, Belgium and most famously Turkey, where he collided with his Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber.
Yet one should not disregard the fact that Vettel drove some stunning races this season. While the first half of the year only garnered two victories, it was the wins at Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi that turned the Championship toward the youthful German.
As for Webber, the Australian had something of a slow start to the season and an off-kilter title run-in. Despite being points leader with three races remaining, the Red Bull driver still slipped down to 3rd overall. Webber’s European run was, however, very impressive. Victories when under pressure in Monaco and Britain showed that on any given day, Webber could be the class of the field; yet this form has yet to displayed over an entire season – and for this reason, he may never be World Champion.
Despite his speed, a lack of mental toughness seemed evident when the pressure was really on – especially when running in front of his home crowd in Melbourne and at key late season events in Korea and Abu Dhabi. In tricky conditions at the new Yeongam circuit Webber spun out, before collecting Nico Rosberg, while during the final weekend, the Australian’s good form seemed absent. When it mattered most, Webber was always behind his teammate.
Of Fernando Alonso, there were some truly mesmerising performances, curious mistakes and plenty of controversy. Class victories in Italy, Singapore and Korea struggled to mask a lucky win in Bahrain – of course, it would be difficult to forget the crass nature in which he won at the Hockenheimring, when team orders came into play at Ferrari. At the tail end of the European season, Alonso noted that podiums would secure him the title – unfortunately for the Spaniard, he did not secure a position in the top-three at the final round.
There were also mistakes at Monaco (that ruled him out of qualifying), Silverstone (ruled him out of the points) and in Belgium (that ruled him out of the race). His luck abandoned him at Valencia when trapped behind an ill-timed safety car and at Abu Dhabi, where a poor team decision left him stuck behind Petrov.
In the end, Lewis Hamilton finished sixteen points behind Vettel. A times a fabulous, yet frustrating year for Hamilton, was topped off by spending much of the final race stuck behind Renault’s Robert Kubica, while Vettel disappeared. There were some fantastic drives from the 2008 World Champion, but also a number of brain fades – perfectly measured wins in Canada and Belgium were equally matched by an anonymous run at Monaco and a dreadful error in Italy, when he speared into the back of Felipe Massa.
His luck swung like a pendulum too – he inherited a lucky win in Turkey, but also lost good point scores in Spain (wheel failure) and Australia where he was hit by Webber. Indeed a podium was probably lost in Singapore too thanks to another collision with the Australian, yet over the course of a whole season, Hamilton never looked a World Champion, but rather a race winner. A co-star rather than leading protagonist.
Of the five Championship protagonists, it arguable that McLaren’s Jenson Button probably made the fewest errors, yet he also did not seem to have the raw speed to truly challenge late on in the title hunt. Having taken two early wins (Australia and China), the reigning Champion failed to visit the top step of the podium at any other point during the year.
As the year wore on, Button appeared to struggle more and more with the handling characteristics of his McLaren Mercedes and with every race, the 30-year-old lost ground on the leaders, eventually falling out of the title battle in Brazil. Upgrades brought to the car never seemed to agree with Button, with the former Brawn driver being hurt most in qualifying – races soon became an uphill battle on a consistent basis.
It was always going to be tough for Button, although he did prove many of his doubters wrong by taking the battle to Hamilton in what was perceived to be “Hamilton’s team”. Sadly for Button, he will (for now) join the list of British drivers to never retain their title.
At 23-years-old, this is only Vettel’s first Championship. Undoubtedly he will add to this tally, as I’m sure both Hamilton and Alonso will too. Lingering in the background is Robert Kubica – the canny Pole who will surely be a title contender in the right car.
Much of the last decade was lost to Schumacher and Ferrari domination – the barren years of the sport. However Formula 1 may just be about to enter a golden age and one that could match the Senna / Prost / Piquet / Mansell era for ferocity, emotion, action, adventure and intrigue.
Bring it on.