FACT OF THE MAT­TER

F1 Racing - - COVER STORY - An­drew Ben­son is BBC Sport’s chief F1 writer

To take Ric­cia­rdo as an ex­am­ple, it may be that it’s not that Vet­tel is not as quick; it’s that he was not as quick in those cir­cum­stances. And the ex­ten­sion of that is that had Ric­cia­rdo and Vet­tel been to­gether at Red Bull in 2012 and 2013, for ex­am­ple, the out­come might well have been dif­fer­ent from what it was in 2014.

Cer­tainly, ev­ery­one who has worked with Vet­tel at his best has come away lled with glow­ing praise for him. At the end of 2015, for­mer Fer­rari tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor James Al­li­son, a huge fan of Alonso’s abil­ity, de­scribed Vet­tel’s sea­son as “flaw­less”.

“We don’t have as good a car as the Mercedes – that’s ob­vi­ous – and yet we won three races,” Al­li­son said. “Se­bas­tian has won all three. And the rea­son he won those three and put it on the podium as much as he did is that we ask him to sort of work mir­a­cles to put his car in a com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion, and he de­liv­ers those mir­a­cles lap af­ter lap, race af­ter race, weekend af­ter weekend. Then, just oc­ca­sion­ally, once or twice in a year, over thou­sands of laps, you see ev­i­dence that there isn’t a ma­chine there, there’s a hu­man. And that shows the mag­nif­i­cence of the achieve­ment in all the other races.”

Al­li­son also has an opin­ion on the pos­i­tive side of Vet­tel’s de­sire to ex­ploit all the ad­van­tages a team can of­fer, by get­ting in­volved in how peo­ple work to­gether – the big pic­ture, as well as the minu­tiae of car be­hav­iour.

“I have worked with two guys who re­ally, re­ally un­der­stand the value of be­ing in a team,” Al­li­son says. “One was Michael Schu­macher and the other is Se­bas­tian. That’s not to den­i­grate the oth­ers, but it’s a par­tic­u­lar strength in Michael and it’s a par­tic­u­lar strength in Se­bas­tian.” IT IS VERY EARLY DAYS, BUT THE ev­i­dence so far is that 2017 could well be a year that plays to Vet­tel’s strengths.

The sea­son has got off to a good start, which should keep the neg­a­tive in­ter­nal pres­sures at Fer­rari un­der con­trol for the time be­ing. The rule changes have given Vet­tel the rear down­force he likes, and the harder Pirelli tyres have a char­ac­ter­is­tic that a highly skilled driver such as Vet­tel can ex­ploit – they are tricky on the limit. It is be­com­ing clear from a series of in­ci­dents that the 2017 rear Pirellis will tol­er­ate only so much an­gle on the car be­fore they let go dra­mat­i­cally.

Wurz says: “The higher the grip with the smaller slip an­gle – you know, quite peaky around the high­est point of grip – that is a very in­ter­est­ing as­pect for any driver. But that ac­tu­ally seems more suit­able for Seb. It helps him to feel the car more.

“If you ar­rive in a cor­ner and the aero and tyres at no point sur­prise you, a good driver ac­tu­ally likes to have a su­per-high peaky tyre be­cause it is so re­ward­ing to bal­ance the car on such an edgy peak and get the most out of it.”

Coulthard says: “I can see why his over­all per­for­mance is be­ing an­a­lysed. And if you had to put them in or­der of who you would put in your car right now, I still think I would be drawn to Lewis and Fer­nando be­fore Se­bas­tian.

“But if you told me, ‘Too late, you’re go­ing to get Se­bas­tian and then you’re go­ing to get Fer­nando and then Lewis,’ I wouldn’t be too dis­ap­pointed, be­cause all three of them are ex­cep­tional in dif­fer­ent ways.

“Seb has had some pe­ri­ods of growth over his ca­reer. The year when Lewis ba­si­cally kept con­nect­ing with Massa at ev­ery race – 2011 – well, the equiv­a­lent of that for Seb was his last year at Red Bull against Daniel Ric­cia­rdo, when there was a lot of frus­tra­tion and anger. That is the thing that oc­ca­sion­ally un­does his ex­cep­tional per­for­mances.

“I can un­der­stand why the jury is still out, be­cause he does not t into any stereo­type of a glad­i­a­to­rial, hero-type driver. But I just think you need to break down who he has been up against, the op­por­tu­ni­ties he’s taken. All of those things al­low him to be con­sid­ered one of the greats of the sport.”

If Vet­tel con­tin­ues in this vein and ends up win­ning that fth world ti­tle, as well as bring­ing Fer­rari a rst driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship since 2007 – some­thing Alonso could not do, de­spite his greater-band­width skillset – many doubts about Vet­tel’s great­ness will surely evap­o­rate. And his sta­tus as a leg­end would be se­cure.

The fact re­mains, though, that those doubts should not be there at all. It’s not a ques­tion of whether Vet­tel is great – or greater than Hamil­ton or Alonso, or less so – but of the nu­ances that dene that great­ness, and make one driver dif­fer­ent from an­other.

“IF VET­TEL ENDS UP WIN­NING THAT FIFTH WORLD TI­TLE, HIS STA­TUS AS A LEG­END WOULD BE SE­CURE”

Vet­tel’s in­tense in­ter­est in ev­ery as­pect of his team, and his mas­tery of car con­trol, is rem­i­nis­cent of Michael Schu­macher – whose many records he could yet match or ex­ceed

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