There is a lot of talk about just how good Sebastian Vettel is since he has once again been out qualified by new teammate Daniel Ricciardo. This has led to lots of people voicing their opinions on just how good Seb is, with many saying he’s not in the same league as the likes of Alonso or Hamilton.
Firstly, I’m going to take you back to pre F1 and early in Vettel’s career. Seb was extremely quick all the way up through the ranks, being noted for his one lap speed and fantastic intellectual ability. In the mid 2000s, there were five-star drivers coming up through the ranks into F1. They were Hamilton, di Resta, Rosberg, Kubica and Vettel. These five were seen as the next generation of golden drivers and all of them have been proven to be extremely quick and capable drivers.
Sebastian came in to the BMW Sauber car in 2006 and set the best times in practice at the second practice at the Hungarian GP, and both practices at the Italian GP. In 2007, Sebastian came in to deputise for the injured Kubica and qualified 7th in the United States GP and finished 8th. He then moved to Toro Rosso for the rest of the season. He ran a brilliant Japanese GP until a mistake behind the safety car due to Hamilton’s ridiculously dangerous behavior and he crashed into future teammate Mark Webber’s Red Bull. He qualified 17th but ended up driving fantastically at the Chinese GP in damp conditions and finished an amazing 4th.
And the final demonstration of his young F1 career that proves just how fantastic he is was his maiden pole and win at Monza in treacherous conditions. He drove supremely well from start to finish, being consistently quick all throughout. He was great in the second half of the 2008 season and ended up helping Toro Rosso beat parent team Red Bull. He moved to the parent team in 2009 and scored four wins and finished 2nd in the championship, a good feat considering how far back Red Bull were behind Brawn GP.
And now it’s time to look at Vettel’s championship years. Four World Drivers Championships and all were deservedly won. Every driver that wins a World Championship has the best car for at least 1 round during the year. He was evenly matched in 2010 and most of 2012 with teammate Mark Webber, but Red Bull brought in a revolutionary blown diffuser concept, which when used properly gave them a huge advantage of half a second per lap. They brought this in in late 2010 and even though initially restricted for 2012, they managed to find a way around it in mid 2012.
Sebastian managed to find a way to adapt his driving style slightly to use it to his advantage and easily outpace Webber on his day. That is why he was so dominant in 2011 and 2013, he was able to use the advantage the team had given him to full effect. He had to work extraordinarily hard to get the 2012 car the way he wanted it. Currently he has 45 pole positions, 23 fastest laps and 39 grand prix victories to his name. I can honestly say I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t at least beat Senna’s records, that’s how much I rate him as a driver.
His biggest advantages as a driver is that he can suddenly turn up the pace at any time he chooses. That’s why he has so many pole positions. He is just immense over one lap. Critics of Seb often say he’s not great with his race craft. But you only have to look at Spain 2014 to see how good he is in that respect. The 2014 RB is at least 15 KMPH down on the Mercedes engine cars and yet he was able to finish an incredible 4th, making most of his moves coming out of the massively quick turn 9 into turn 10. He was extremely brave on the brakes and made some gutsy moves. He is fantastic at maintaining his tyres, he’s always thinking of the bigger picture. Most importantly, he wants to win, as much as the hungriest driver. He’s never completely satisfied, he is always looking for more time and performance. And that is the mark of a legend.
It’s amazing to think a four-time world champion is one of the most underrated drivers on the grid and probably the most underrated world champion of the modern era. I honestly rate him in the top five all time drivers alongside Senna, Schumacher, Fangio and Stewart. And maybe one day, he may well reach the top of that amazing group of drivers.
Robert Enright, Pundit Arena.