Germany. JULY 20,
When Sebastian Vettel took the British GP a fortnight ago, mastering the fast sweeps of Silverstone for a 51st win, he pulled level with Alain Prost on the all-time list. Only Michael Schumacher (91) and Lewis Hamilton (65) have more race victories.
The reality of this pecking order wouldn’t have been lost on the German: four years ago, it was Vettel, not Hamilton, who was expected to lead the pack chasing Schumacher’s record. At the end of the 2013 season, Vettel had 39 wins to Hamilton’s 22. But the Briton’s three titles in four years have altered matters. Over the last two years, Ferrari has a found a way to challenge Mercedes’ hegemony, and the fight for a fifth drivers’ world championship between Vettel and Hamilton has grown tighter and more compelling.
For Hamilton, a fifth title will vindicate his already exalted status as the best all-round driver on the grid; for Vettel, it will represent something far more profound. After four years of dominance at Red Bull (2010-13), Vettel was comprehensively beaten by upstart Daniel Ricciardo in the one year they were together (2014) before the German decided to jump ship to Ferrari.
It was a risky move: in 2014, Ferrari had its first winless campaign in two decades. What Vettel was trying to do was emulate compatriot Michael Schumacher, who in 1996 had joined a struggling Ferrari that had not won a title in a decade. The success Schumacher and Ferrari had in their 11 years together will go down as one of the greatest turnarounds and partnerships in the history of not just F1 but world sport.
Despite Vettel’s four titles, there has always been the perception that he had it easy, thanks to the supremacy of the Red Bull car while ‘better’ drivers like Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were toiling in uncompetitive machines. Though the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull was indeed the benchmark when Vettel was rewriting record books, it does his achievements a great disservice to put them down to the brilliance of the car and not the driver. Besides, Hamilton has benefited himself from an even more dominant Mercedes.
One of the trademarks of Vettel’s days in Red Bull was his ability to extract the most from his car in qualifying.
Like Schumacher, he was methodical, spending hours in the paddock after practice to get things just right. He set himself up to deliver that perfect lap on Saturday. He could then dominate Sunday from pole, using the clear air to maximise his vehicle’s potential and break free of the pursuing pack.
Germany. JULY 20,