Unassailable, unstoppable, unbeatable - Vettels historic double 09 Oct 2011
Sebastian Vettel would be the first to admit that the ride to his maiden title in 2010 was pretty rocky. At the season finale in Abu Dhabi four drivers were in with a shout at the championship and it was only Vettels commanding performance which secured him the drivers crown. But that was last year.
2011 has been altogether different. Whereas last year he didnt lead the standings until the Yas Marina results were in, this year hes led throughout; from Marchs Australian Grand Prix to this weekends Suzuka decider, the title has been his to lose. For the past few months its not been a question of if Vettel would do the double, but rather of when.
Distinguished rivals including former world champions Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have been left to fight over the scraps whilst the frequently untouchable Vettel has glided towards a second successive championship barely buffeted. All things considered, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the early career of another German driver, one who went on to claim seven titles.
Indeed, his success this year has had a distinctly Schumacher-esque quality. He has been the top dog on Saturday, taking 12 from a possible 15 pole positions, and only once has he failed to make the front row of the grid. Rewind to 2004 when Herr Schumacher last dominated a season and the German legend took a comparatively meagre eight poles. In fact, just two more for Vettel would see him match Nigel Mansells 1992 record of 14 in a season.
On Sundays too, nobody has held a candle to Vettel. Nine wins from 15 races would be dominant enough, but when Vettels not been busy winning hes consistently finished on the podium - only once (ironically at his home round in Germany) has he failed to make the top three. Its an incredible feat, emphasised by the tally of wins and podiums scored by his rivals.
Hamilton has two wins, two podiums and zero poles. Button has three wins, eight podiums and zero poles. And Alonso has one win, seven podiums and zero poles. Perhaps most tellingly, team mate Mark Webber has zero wins, eight podiums and three pole positions. Slouches they arent, but when it comes to racing - and winning - all have been forced to squabble over the crumbs dropping from Vettels trophy-laden table.
So why has Vettel triumphed this season? The majestic RB7 must take a hefty share of the credit. Cunningly innovative, stunningly quick and flawlessly reliable, the 2011 Red Bull has picked up the bar, run with it, and set it much, much higher than the team have ever managed before. Rival engineers have been forced to look on, swallow their envy and try to replicate Adrian Neweys masterpiece from the get go.
But the car cant take all the credit. Its simply been the perfect charge for the perfect champion, most of the time. Webber has been equipped with exactly the same machinery but hasnt won once - the 24 year-old German has always held the advantage. Much of that advantage has been rammed home in qualifying, when Vettels single-lap performance has been peerless. His ability to deliver when it counts, even at tracks thought not to favour the Red Bull such as Spa and Monza, has rarely let him down, ensuring a clear track ahead for the start of the race.
But pole positions dont guarantee wins, especially with rivals of the calibre of Vettels and especially when those rivals have DRS and KERS at their disposal, technology that has made overtaking a far more realistic proposition this season. This year more than ever, P1 on the grid doesnt necessarily equal victory. But for Vettel it has. Eight times out of nine.
And even when he hasnt started from pole, and even when Red Bull have had to give best to McLaren or Ferrari in terms of raw race pace, Vettel has kept his cool. Notching back the hot-headedness he displayed at times last season, hes remained calm and collected even when he or the team have made mistakes. Hes not just won races he should have won - hes also won some he shouldnt have.
That cool head has been combined with plenty of heart. He certainly hasnt lost any of the fiery skills that secured him his maiden drivers crown - his nail-biting pass on Alonso at Monza proved that. Plus, with number one plastered to his car, Vettels confidence in his own abilities has soared. Matching skill and consistency with startlingly raw pace and ambition, over the last 15 races Vettel has stepped into a different league, dismissing any suggestion that his title last year was a lucky fluke and proving instead that 2010 was merely the beginning.
So Formula Ones youngest points scorer (USA 2007), youngest pole sitter (Italy 2008), youngest race winner (Italy 2008) and youngest world champion (Abu Dhabi, 2010) has become its youngest double world champion (Japan, 2011), aged just 24 years and 98 days. And, just four years into his career, Vettels barely started. Schumacher better watch his back. Theres a new record breaker in town.
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