F1 Week: From The World Champion’s Viewpoint – Part 1

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?

Alberto Contador © Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty ImagesMost 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.

Sebastian Vettel ©  Muecke MotorsportAfter 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.

Sebastian Vettel © Torro RossoThe 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 …

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22 responses to “F1 Week: From The World Champion’s Viewpoint – Part 1

  1. He almost lost THAT finger? I didn’t know that. The world would be a different place.

    • Who knows, maybe that’s what made him invent ‘the finger’ in the first place.

  2. Nothing on this week or the Monaco grand prix yet, but looking forward to the next part…:-)

    For me the ‘good old’ point scoring system is the one whereby the winner got 9 points (9-6-4-3-2-1) as I think that one has been in use for a longer time

    • The 9-6-4-3-2-1 was flawed though, because

      a) it went with the 11-out-of-16 rule, which caught out Prost in 1989
      b) A win had slightly less value

      I think the scheme as introduced in 1991 was better. A win was significantly more worth than settling for 2nd and with only 6 positions scoring, a points scoring finish was still a real achievement.

      • Yes, but with reliability issues, you still got teams occasionally stealing a point akin to the Caterham’s of this world.

        …then you had Herbert winning in style…

        It’s less likely a tertiary team will score today

        • True, but a 5th like Sutil in Monaco would have been a proper eye-opener in the old system, now it is merely a few points more than Paul.

      • I think you refer to the 1988 season when Prost scored more points but didn’t become WDC because not all of his points were taken into account.

        Any points system will have its flaws and strengths. Maybe under the ‘good old’ system Seb would have had a go at Rosberg last week. Think about it.

          • Exactly. To be fair to the ‘tyrecritics’: in most races this year the drivers have been forced into a conservative mode just to make sure that they got to the finish in a decent position (i.e. without too many pit stops), but in Monaco Vettel and probably some others could have pushed harder but they didn’t because a quick risk-benefit analysis under the current point system was telling them that it wasn’t worth it. In my opinion, the current ‘all points count’ system is a much ignored factor it the ongoing ‘racers should always be racing’ discussion, especially during the first half of the year and at risky circuits such as Monaco.

          • Vettels tyres were marginal after the first stint even without any pressure applied on the Mercs. That’s why the boffins behind the pit wall told him to give up and hold station halfway into the race, so in Monaco it was 90% a pure tyre problem, at least for the lemonade tins.

          • A reasonable call from the RBR pit wall at that point in the race, but doesn’t it become quite defensive after the red flag, Seb’s new supersofts and with Webber as the perfect blocker?

            I guess the fear to end up with 0 points was still bigger, but I do not think this would still be the case with only a limited amount of race results to be taken into account and with the bigger points difference between first and second that we used to have (now it’s less than half the points more, it used to be half or even half +1).

          • They had to do three laps more than the marginal first stint after the red flag, so even with the car being lighter it would’ve been too big a risk, especially since Nico’s tires after the first stint were still 50%. RB are mortally afraid of racing since the tyres pretty much sabotage anything their car was designed to rely on. That explains their rather loud complaining. Pirelli have effectively rendered Newey’s design a very expensive paperweight.

          • Oeps, another indoctrinated victim of the FIA/Pirelli against RBR/Newey conspiracy theory, i’ll rest my case…:-)

          • It has nothing to do with indoctrination, BDP. But it has been analyzed to death that the 2013 Pirelli’s do not work with cars that generate a lot of aerodynamic downforce. The RB has always been like that and Mercedes has chosen a very bad time to get their aerodynamics sorted out 😉
            I’m not saying that Pirelli deliberately made the tyres crap to disadvantage Red Bull or Mercedes, but considering Hembery’s constant threats that changing the tire would hand the title to RB opens the door for speculation that it at least was part of the consideration. Serial winners are bad for the business and I wouldn’t put it past Ecclestone to have a hand in ‘shaking up the order’. After all they did use tyre regs after 2005 to stop Ferrari from slapping the rest of the field from left to right.

  3. Great write-up DS. Although I despise him cause he wins too much and has the measure over Webber (I’m an Aussie), his determination and car control are outstanding. He’s like a smiling assassin- calm, cool but ruthless.
    Would love to see him in another team one day – would be very interesting. Also need to see a woman in the seat of an F1 car…

    • Thanks 🙂
      I think we will see him in another team soon. I’ll elaborate on the reasons in the other 2 parts.
      Agree with you on the women folk. Danica doesn’t seem to be interested in F1, but Switzerland alone has two girls, who could probably make it – Cyndie Allemann and Simona de Silvestro (hint,hint Mr. Sauber). Her Majesty’s Empire too with Kathrin Legge and Suzie Wolff. All it takes would be for a team to shove one of them into a car for at least the young drivers test.

      • Maybe that is in the fine print of the Williams-Merc deal for next year. If Maldonado cannot get PDVSA to stump up the cash he is out on his ear … unfortunately I may add…

        • Well, Toto is the Merc motorsport boss and his better half is test driver at Williams 😉

    • Rumour has it, some of the female drivers competing in the Indy 500 had built-in navigation on board to find their way around the track.

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