Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg
I have been kindly invited by the honorable Judge13 to write this article, and I want to use the opportunity to take a look at the season and at last week’s Monaco Grand Prix from the point of view of the youngest triple world champion F1 has ever had.
Who is Sebastian Vettel?
Most people in her Majesty’s Empire, but also in other parts of Europe, will instinctively answer “the little brat with the annoying finger.” It’s hard to find another victory celebration that makes people’s blood boil so comprehensively. Alberto Contador’s weird pistolero routine is probably the only real contender. Interestingly enough, in both cases it’s probably not the routine itself that annoys people, but rather the fact that they are performed so infuriatingly often.
And while Mr. Vettel tries his utmost to annoy people even further by performing the crazy frog over team radio, running roughshod over his team mate, and generally just winning way too often and, in many people’s opinion, too easily, it is easy to overlook just how good the man really is at his job.
There are two current F1 drivers who are so good, even as kids, that they’ve been signed up by major players as soon as they stopped soiling their diaper. One is Lewis Hamilton, who was signed by McLaren at the age of 13 and the other one is Sebastian Vettel, who was accepted into the Red Bull Junior program at the ripe old age of 11.
From the early days he had been called “Baby Schumi” in Germany, but that is quite flattering for Mr. Schumacher. While Schumacher won so much in F1 that it prompted the FIA to fiddle with the rules just to stop him from winning everything, the early exploits of Schumacher look decisively ordinary in comparison with Vettel’s junior years.
After annoying the raw stuffing out of the karting scene by not leaving much for anyone else to win, he was kicked up the ladder into Formula-BMW, the traditional first step towards a career in open wheel racing in the Fatherland, at age 15. In true Vettel style he alienated the lot by letting someone else win twice and taking home the other 18 race wins in 2004.
They were all too happy to see him go to F3 wher,e for the first time, he didn’t just cream the lot instantly. That didn’t stop him from becoming the best rookie though. Running for Mücke Motorsports, a privateer team, he also got the chance to test a Williams and a BMW Sauber. Mind you, at the time of the Williams test he wasn’t even old enough for a driving license.
In 2006 he lost the F3 Euro Series championship to team mate Paul di Resta, partly because he kept himself distracted by guest starts in the Renault World Trophy and being promoted to official test driver at BMW Sauber and partly because di Resta was bloody good that year.
That year he showed that he was tougher than what his boyish grin and the hairstyle, which looked as if his hairdresser was using explosives for the styling, made one believe. In a Formula Renault race at Spa-Francorchamps (of all things) his finger was almost completely sliced off in an accident. Despite being expected to be sidelined for weeks, he showed up at the Ultimate F3 masters in Zandvoort and finished 6th despite an almost immobilized hand.
Promoted to Formula Renault in 2007 he was leading the championship when the call from BMW Sauber came to stand in for Kubica after the Pole’s massive shunt at Canada.
Mr. Vettel and Mr. Hyde
Few drivers have undergone a more major change in public perception than Vettel. When he was shoved into an F1 car for his first GP, he was barely old enough to shave and was grinning like a Cheshire cat all day with a hairstyle that makes Carlos Valderama’s scalp look organized.
He looked like a teenager who got permission to play outside till after 8 pm for the first time. What this goody-two-shoes image didn’t give away is that he didn’t accept the call just wanting to be on the grid. He wanted points, wins, championships, if possible yesterday. He proved his ambition by promptly relieving Mr. J. Button of his title as youngest ever points scorer, something that would become a pattern throughout his F1 career.
I only had the chance to meet the man twice, but I had enough interaction to see that his funny persona isn’t an act – he really is like that. No three sentences go by without him cracking a joke.
The “scary” part starts when he dons his helmet. As soon as the visor is down, Mr. Vettel goes on extended leave and Mr. Hyde takes over. When the lights go out only one thing counts – his ambition. Sounds familiar? That’s exactly what made the likes of Senna, Piquet, or Schumacher the drivers they were.
Of course, drivers like Sir Stirling Moss, who is the epitome of a Gentleman and who was too sportsmanlike for his own good at times, win more popularity points with the audience. But Sir Stirling has no world title to Vettel’s or Senna’s three, or even Schumacher’s seven. Ruthlessness on track is neither sympathetic nor sexy, but it’s utterly successful.
The signs of it were visible at an early stage. Drafted intoToro Rosso to take the place of Scott Speed, who had failed to live up to his name, he started slow and with a lot of rookie errors. However, before the year was over he had put the ersatz Red Bull on fourth position in China. Nobody else has done that in a Toro Rosso ever again. He would repeat the trick a year later with 3 fifth positions, another fourth, and the memorable maiden win at Monza.
If we were still using the good old 10-6-4-3-2-1 point system Toro Rosso would have 25 points in all its history, 24 of which were scored by Vettel. Since his departure, no Toro Rosso has finished better than seventh.
Having seen enough, the RB bigwigs promoted him to the big team, and the rest is – as they say – history.
to be continued …