Vet­tel on Fer­rari, 2017 and beyond

SE­BAS­TIAN VET­TEL MIGHT HAVE LOST THE 2017 F1 WORLD TI­TLE TO LEWIS HAMIL­TON, BUT HE FEELS THERE IS MORE TO COME FROM HIS TIME AT FER­RARI

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Ben An­der­son, Grand Prix Edi­tor @BenAn­der­son­Auto

There can be no doubt that Se­bas­tian Vet­tel is among the best of those who have ever driven a For­mula 1 car. Re­gard­less of his four world cham­pi­onships (only five driv­ers have claimed that num­ber), 46 wins (mak­ing him fourth in the all-time list) and 50 pole po­si­tions (fourth all-time) – the three ba­sic sta­tis­ti­cal mea­sures of grand prix greatness – Vet­tel is well es­tab­lished as one of the five big beasts on the cur­rent grid. Along with 2017 world cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton, dou­ble world cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso, and Red Bull stars Daniel Ric­cia­rdo and Max Ver­stap­pen, you can bet Vet­tel is among the truly elite names at the top of ev­ery team’s driver wish list. Fer­rari and its tal­is­man have been de­feated with two races to spare this year. That is tough to take af­ter such a bril­liant start, but the Scud­e­ria now has a solid tech­ni­cal foun­da­tion on which to build, and will look to Vet­tel for fur­ther in­spi­ra­tion in its at­tempts to go one bet­ter next sea­son. In so many ways Vet­tel is walk­ing the path laid out be­fore him by Fer­rari’s other great Ger­man driver, the one who made them great again af­ter so long in the dol­drums. Michael Schu­macher took Fer­rari back to the summit of F1’s moun­tain and claimed it for his own – five times in 11 sea­sons. It took Schu­macher five goes to claim the first of those five ti­tles. So, if Vet­tel’s 2015 was the equiv­a­lent of Schu­macher’s 1996, we are cur­rently living through 1998, when Schu­macher lost out to Mika Hakki­nen and the resur­gent Mclaren, de­spite a very strong cam­paign of his own. Vet­tel hasn’t won his ver­sion of 1998 ei­ther. Too many things went wrong at the cru­cial mo­ments, while Hamil­ton and Mercedes found an ex­tra gear in the sec­ond half of the sea­son that Fer­rari just couldn’t quite match. But there will surely be other chances. If and when Vet­tel fi­nally takes one, it will si­lence those crit­ics who claim he is merely a one-trick pony, flat­tered by a suc­ces­sion of Red Bulls from de­sign guru Adrian Newey. It is said that all ge­niuses are flawed – that with­out odd­i­ties of char­ac­ter they wouldn’t be what they are. It was true of Ayr­ton Senna and Schu­macher, who pushed the bound­aries of ac­cept­abil­ity to win at all costs. It is true of Alonso, who is con­sid­ered too hot to han­dle by most of F1’s best teams. And it is true of Vet­tel too. He is a driver un­doubt­edly ca­pa­ble of ex­tra­or­di­nary feats, but one who ar­guably hasn’t con­sis­tently hit the mark since the last of his world ti­tles in 2013; a driver oc­ca­sion­ally prone to mo­ments of mad­ness and self-de­struc­tion un­der pres­sure, of which we have seen glimpses this sea­son. Vet­tel has driven very well for much of the year. He has won four races in the sec­ond-fastest car, and some of his qual­i­fy­ing per­for­mances to get onto the front row of the grid in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances have been out­stand­ing. But there have also been some im­por­tant mis­takes – both on his side and the team’s. And with Hamil­ton and Mercedes op­er­at­ing at such a high level, there was sim­ply no room for such er­ror from Fer­rari and its star driver. They say you can­not have the light with­out the shade. To let ge­nius flour­ish you must be pre­pared to take the rough with the smooth; the good with the bad, and the ugly. They all have it, and Vet­tel is no dif­fer­ent.

“IT WILL SI­LENCE THOSE CRIT­ICS WHO CLAIM THAT VET­TEL IS MERELY A ONE-TRICK PONY”

“And now, three years in, I think a lot of things hap­pened. We had a very, very strong year in the first year, we fin­ished sec­ond in the con­struc­tors’. The fol­low­ing year ev­ery­one thinks you win the con­struc­tors’ and you fight for the ti­tle. We weren’t strong enough, we weren’t ready.

“But a lot of things still kept grow­ing, and ob­vi­ously this year was a lot stronger. For the first time, we were in a very strong po­si­tion to fight for wins and field a very strong car, a strong plat­form that we built on.

“We are still grow­ing. First off, there has been a lot of changes, big changes in the back­ground, in terms of the dy­namic in­side the fac­tory, the way we work, the way we work to­gether. A lot of pos­i­tives, [but also] a lot of things that we still need to learn, still need to im­prove, be­cause in the end we are not fight­ing Mickey Mouse and Don­ald Duck on the track.

“And also, to be fair – and not sound­ing ar­ro­gant – we don’t want to win by an inch. It’s a nice fight, but ul­ti­mately we want to win be­cause we de­serve it and we are just bet­ter than ev­ery­one else, that’s where we want to go.”

Schu­macher was only eight points off the lead of the 1999 cham­pi­onship when he broke his leg dur­ing the Bri­tish Grand Prix at Sil­ver­stone. Af­ter he re­turned, Fer­rari was near-un­stop­pable un­til Alonso and Re­nault fi­nally found a way to break the spell in 2005.

It feels as though Fer­rari is only one small step away from top­pling Mercedes, but it felt that way in 2015 too at times. The Scud­e­ria was way more com­pet­i­tive this year, a proper cham­pi­onship threat rather than oc­ca­sional op­por­tunist win­ner, un­til that woe­ful run of re­sults be­tween Sin­ga­pore and Ja­pan that handed Hamil­ton his de­ci­sive edge.

The key now is for Fer­rari not to over­re­act in de­feat. The team al­ready has plans to ad­dress the qual­ity con­trol prob­lems that ru­ined its chances in Malaysia and Ja­pan, while Vet­tel has pub­licly come out in sup­port of em­bat­tled team boss Maurizio Ar­riv­abene. Vet­tel says he has been a “key per­son” in re­vi­tal­is­ing Fer­rari’s work­ing cul­ture and trans­form­ing the team into ti­tle chal­lengers again.

“I think we are head­ing the right way, so over­all I’m very happy to see it com­ing to­gether, but at the same time I shouldn’t take the credit, be­cause my key role is to drive the car,” Vet­tel adds. “There are some other things I can in­flu­ence as well, but there are lots of other peo­ple in­volved in chang­ing that spirit, cul­ture, ap­proach.

“In a way I be­lieve it’s dif­fer­ent here than any­where else.

You speak to all the peo­ple, I think the pas­sion for the brand is just some­thing magic. Other peo­ple try to get it, but they can’t. Maybe I can’t even give you the right an­swer! But it’s just like that, just take it as a rule, as a given.

“The tar­get is very am­bi­tious, but we be­lieve in it. Of course, in the last three years there were also times when you were think­ing, was it the right thing [to leave Red Bull]? Nat­u­rally, you think about where you are go­ing [and] some­times you go up, some­times you go down. But the be­lief in the project is still 100% there, and I think this year is a great tes­ti­mony that things are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

“IT FEELS AS IF FER­RARI IS ONLY ONE SMALL STEP FROM TOP­PLING MERCEDES”

Fer­rari was nigh on un­stop­pable in the early 2000s

Vet­tel speaks of the Fer­rari brand as “some­thing magic”

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