Sebastian Vettel may well be reflecting today that his time at the top of global motorsport has well and truly ended. Martin Brundle appears to believe so because following Max Verstappen’s brilliant drive through the wet at the 2016 Brazilian GP, he suggested Vettel may now be over the top of F1’s hill.
The SKY F1 pundit and ex-British F1 driver described Verstappen’s overtake on Vettel as a ‘changing of the guard’, though the on track move by the young Dutch kid was for many just the final nail in Seb’s reputation as ‘one of the best’.
Sebastian Vettel has spent most of 2016 complaining to Charlie Whiting, the media and the public over team radio about Max Verstappen and his driving abilities. So yesterday the irony was lost on noone as Max V flew past the German ex-champ with consummate ease in the closing stages of the Sao Paulo race. It was almost a metaphorical two fingered salute to the one once uber victorious champ known for years as ‘finger boy’.
Of course, one on track move does not create greatness and neither does it relegate a four times champion to the ‘also ran’ brigade. Yet in the moment identified by Brundle, Vettel once again demonstrated why his behaviour has become irksome to many. He complained over the radio that in fact his nose was ahead, implying Max should be forced to give the place back. Fernando Alosno makes the case that Vettel is once again being hypocritical following a dubious move Sebastian pulled on him. “One day we’ll have to drive into him so he realises that the track belongs to everybody,” commented the Spaniard after the race.
All this sits against the backdrop of Vettel leading the established F1 drivers in a season long Max Verstappen witch-hunt. The irony of which was never plainer than during the Mexican GP when the German was penalised by the stewards under a new regulation Sebastian had called for – designed to prevent his persistent complaints that Verstappen was ‘moving under braking’.
Ferrari were embarrassing this weekend with their continued efforts to appeal the Mexican GP stewards decision on Vettel from two weeks ago, but this just made it plain to all there was more Sebastian self-righteous indignation playing out behind the scenes in Maranello.
Yet the seeds of Vettel’s demise were sown many moons ago. Following four years of dominating F1 when cars were aften designed to be driven counter intuitively because aerodynamics dominated the sport, Vettel found himself with a new team mate in 2014. And it came to pass that a certain young Aussie proceeded to give the German a lesson in driving.
That year Ricciardo out qualified Seb 12-7 and where both of them reached the chequered flag the Aussie finished ahead of his team mate 11 races to 3. This was a humiliation of the highest order, though Vettel’s response was to criticise and bemoan the direction F1 had taken by moving away from an aerodynamic dominated series to one where traditional automotive engineering ie the engine, now stood centre stage.
That season was dominated by Mercedes, though mostly due to Red Bull’s new boy Ricciardo, the Milton Keynes team grabbed second ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship. Ferrari trailed home fourth.
Clearly, another year of this kind of Ricciardo ‘beasting’ would have seen Sebastian Vettel consigned to the ‘has been’ heap of F1 drivers and so the German fled tout suite to Ferrari for 2015. At that time Maranello was itself concluding a civil war that had seen the ousting of their decades long chairman and 3 team principals in just two years. The Tifosi’s were now ready to raise their hopes at the spectre of a ‘baby Schumy’ arriving to their rescue; another German driver who would lead the Italian F1 marque from the racing doldrums.
And for a while, all seemed good. Ferrari won races, Vettel beat his lack lustre Finnish team mate and the Red Team clinched second in the 2015 constructors’ title. Sebastian’s old team were third, though to be fair Red Bull Racing spent most of their 2015 efforts fighting their own year long civil war with engine partner Renault.
Sergio Marchionne raised Ferrari expectations beyond the rafters for 2016 and even after failing to win a race by May this year, the Italian company president claimed at the launch of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, “The drivers’ title? I think we deserve it. Not because we are smarter, but simply as a reflection of the work we did in 2015”.
This and other such declarations form the great industrial business guru have proven to be as delusional as Vettel’s analysis of Max Verstappen’s driving capabilities. Yesterday Ferrari were consigned to third place this year and Sebastian Vettel was again crushed by a young pretender.
And so to next year where Formula One change is in the air due to new regulations. Bigger tyres and more downforce regulations have seen the Milton Keynes Master of Aerodynamics rubbing his hands in glee, as the RB13 is now receiving its finishing touches.
Surely, a year which sees Sebastian Vettel’s two nemeses – Danny Ric and Max V for Victory Verstappen – pounding the German into on track submission AGAIN will be too much for Seb to bear. Will he then do a Michael or a Kimi? – disappear into ‘temporary’ retirement. After all there’s no room at any inn for Sebastian, where he’ll be given an F1 car that can win consistently.
The problem for Seb is when Michael and Kimi first left Formula One, there was no Max Verstappen waiting in the wings to dominate the sport – maybe like never before. And the BIG question for us the fans is??? How long will it be before Verstappen develops his own ‘finger salute’?
V for Verstappen?