Autosport (UK) - - COVER STORY/VETTEL -

The par­al­lels be­tween Vet­tel’s and Schu­macher’s Fer­rari odysseys at their re­spec­tive early stages are un­canny. Like Schu­macher be­fore him, Vet­tel joined a Fer­rari team that was on the floor com­pet­i­tively com­pared with its lofty am­bi­tions and its his­toric achieve­ments.

When Schu­macher headed to Maranello in 1996, Fer­rari had won only two races in five sea­sons – a dread­ful re­turn for a team of such re­pute. The lack of suc­cess was not quite so sus­tained when Vet­tel left Red Bull for Italy at the end of 2014, but Fer­rari was com­ing off the back of its worst year since 1993, hav­ing not won a cham­pi­onship since 2008.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride all the way, but Vet­tel has won seven races for Fer­rari over the past three sea­sons, and this year led the cham­pi­onship for the best part of two thirds of the grands prix held so far. His ti­tle chal­lenge fell apart fol­low­ing the Au­gust sum­mer break, but there is no doubt Fer­rari is on an up­ward tra­jec­tory.

Fer­rari was prop­erly com­pet­i­tive from the first race of the sea­son un­der 2017’s new, en­hanced aero­dy­namic reg­u­la­tions and beefed-up tyres. More cru­cially, it kept pace in the de­vel­op­ment race, which for so long has been a real weak­ness at Maranello.

Hamil­ton de­scribed this one as the tough­est of his four world cham­pi­onship wins, which is a real tes­ta­ment to how hard Fer­rari and Vet­tel have pushed Mercedes this sea­son.

Speak­ing ex­clu­sively to Au­tosport on the eve of the Mex­i­can Grand Prix, where his 2017 cham­pi­onship hopes fi­nally un­rav­elled for good, Vet­tel says Fer­rari has much big­ger plans than win­ning a tight race with Mercedes for cham­pi­onship glory. The aim is to dom­i­nate again, in the fash­ion his child­hood hero and idol Schu­macher even­tu­ally did in the early 2000s.

“It has al­ways been a dream to race for Fer­rari – the way I grew up look­ing up to Michael, what he achieved mostly in red,” Vet­tel ex­plains. “That was, still is, a very strong in­spi­ra­tion and mo­ti­va­tor. So, when there was the op­por­tu­nity to join Fer­rari se­ri­ously, with the pos­si­bil­ity to change and build some­thing new, then of course I got very in­ter­ested.

Schu­macher re­turned Fer­rari to greatness

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