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
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”