Peter Wind­sor eval­u­ates the triple champ’s chances against Fer­rari’s Seb Vet­tel in 2016

Now Fer­rari have re­found their mojo, the fight be­tween come­back kid Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and newly crowned triple champ Lewis Hamil­ton could be 2016’s hottest story. Peter Wind­sor an­tic­i­pates an epic con­test


Hamil­ton-vet­tel. Mercedes-fer­rari. Sil­ver-red. Eng­land-ger­many. As of the time of writ­ing, prior to the 2015 Brazil­ian GP, they have a com­bined to­tal of seven driv­ers’ cham­pi­onships (Vet­tel 4, Hamil­ton 3) and 85 wins (Hamil­ton 43, Vet­tel 42).

So on the one hand we have Lewis Hamil­ton. Global su­per­star. A loner among his peers; a ge­nius be­hind the wheel. On the other, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. The next Ger­man to take Fer­rari by the neck and make it a win­ning ma­chine. In­for­mal and ur­bane, a Michael he is not.

There have been no slang­ing matches and nor, to date, has there been any ill-feel­ing – no past his­tory over which the pa­parazzi can stir


the brew. Sure, Se­bas­tian played with Lewis’s ego af­ter the 2015 Rus­sian GP, ask­ing him, provoca­tively, about who had set fastest lap – ha, ha. If they do gen­uinely think about one another, how­ever, it is in terms of another en­tic­ing car/ driver pack­age there to be beaten. Just another notch in the wood. They are both that clin­i­cal.

This is, though, merely the over­ture – merely the start of it all.

The best is yet to come.


Both are ap­proach­ing their primes. Both ar­rived in F1 at around the same time. And both made im­me­di­ate im­pacts. Seb breezed into a BMW Fri­day F1 drive from For­mula BMW and F3, scored points on his F1 de­but and won for Toro Rosso in his first full sea­son (2008). He col­lected the first of his four world ti­tles two years later. Lewis dom­i­nated GP2 be­fore al­most win­ning the world cham­pi­onship in his de­but year (2007) and win­ning it for the first time in 2008.

Both, too, have had un­set­tled years. For Seb, it was 2014, the first year of the hy­brid era, when he was stretched by his team-mate at Red Bull, Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. Out­qual­i­fied (7-12) and out­pointed (167-238), Seb had no an­swers to Daniel’s su­pe­rior abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late the rear of the car, par­tic­u­larly when the front was

also way­ward. Seb com­pen­sated for this with re­newed de­ter­mi­na­tion: with four world ti­tles be­hind him, at a time when his tal­ents could have been left to stag­nate, he grate­fully ac­cepted a Fer­rari drive and a new chal­lenge for 2015. The slate was wiped clean.

On pace, Lewis had no ma­jor prob­lems with his team-mates at Mclaren, with Fer­nando Alonso, Heikki Ko­valainen and Jen­son But­ton. But Nico Ros­berg posed a few ques­tions for him at Mercedes in 2013. In the W04, Lewis, for the first time, found him­self a lit­tle be­hind the beat. He couldn’t feel the back end; couldn’t al­ways tame it. If he was go­ing to progress, go­ing into the new F1 tech­ni­cal era, he was go­ing to have to max­imise a new, less or­ganic brake pedal. He was go­ing to have to mas­ter brake-by-wire.

Lewis did. He worked at it. He looked at what Nico was do­ing and took the process a step fur­ther, mul­ti­ply­ing Nico’s brake shape with his own abil­ity to re­lease the brake-pedal pres­sure at pre­cisely the cor­rect rate. This was no sim­u­la­tor thing: this was Lewis, think­ing deeply over the win­ter, and find­ing, to his delight, a muchim­proved W05 back end for the 2014 sea­son.

Re­sults flowed. Over the past two years, Lewis has be­come the first Bri­ton ever to win backto-back ti­tles, and has be­come one of only ten driv­ers ever to have won three cham­pi­onships or more (join­ing Fan­gio, Brab­ham, Ste­wart, Lauda, Pi­quet, Prost, Senna, Schu­macher and Vet­tel). Nor should we for­get that Lewis in the Mclaren years won races like Fuji in the wet in 2007, or the tor­rid Bri­tish GP of 2008. Both were clas­sics, as was his drive to fifth in Brazil, 2008, when he won his first world ti­tle; his first win (Canada, 2007); many of his Monaco GPS; and his four wins in America (2007, 2012, 2014 and 2015).

In James Al­li­son, mean­while, Seb found just the right re­place­ment for Adrian Newey. Where Adrian was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly de­tached from the ever-more dra­co­nian F1 tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions, cul­mi­nat­ing in Red Bull’s fron­twing de­flec­tion skir­mish in Abu Dhabi, 2014, Al­li­son was ea­ger to pro­duce a car with four wheels on the ground. Down­force, on the Fer­rari SF15-T, would be sec­ondary to bal­ance, and that com­pro­mise would dove­tail nicely with Seb’s phi­los­o­phy. Months be­fore, Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene had lis­tened to Seb’s ex­hor­ta­tions about Al­li­son and had ac­cord­ingly pro­moted Al­li­son into a po­si­tion of over­all con­trol. Ev­ery­thing at Fer­rari seemed to be head­ing in a new, log­i­cal di­rec­tion.

Still, Seb was un­sure as Jan­uary turned to Fe­bru­ary. He was now the Big Name at Fer­rari, but there was the ques­tion mark: could he drive the new Fer­rari the way he had driven the 2013 Red Bull? All be­came clear at Jerez, when Seb first drove the car. He had a back end! He had a front end! Seb cel­e­brated by set­ting fastest time and daz­zling them in the wet. His garage stood and ap­plauded as he climbed from the car. Kimi was al­ready re­duced to a sup­port­ing act.


Both have had their in­tra-team brawls. Mark Web­ber usu­ally set high qual­i­fy­ing bench­marks for Seb – and was some­times right there in the race, too, oc­cu­py­ing road that Seb, wished to use. The apogee came in Turkey, 2010, when the im­pen­e­tra­ble bar­rier (Web­ber) was con­fronted by the in­ex­haustible force (Vet­tel). Seb lunged for a nar­row, high-speed gap… and on that oc­ca­sion lost. Web­ber re­cov­ered to fin­ish third.

There was more ten­sion. Web­ber would speak of­ten of Seb’s tantrums; and, af­ter win­ning at Sil­ver­stone in 2010, Web­ber icily de­clared his own per­for­mance was “not bad for a num­ber

two driver”. Then, in Malaysia 2013, Seb de­fied or­ders by pass­ing Web­ber when both were sup­pos­edly lap­ping within rigid pa­ram­e­ters. Web­ber and Adrian Newey were in­censed.

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo also posed chal­lenges for Seb: the dif­fer­ence was that Red Bull were not con­sis­tent fron­trun­ners in 2014. Seb thus re­mained rel­a­tively quiet and with­drawn that year, even if his nir­vana for 2015 was easy to see: as well as a car that sat square on the road, he wanted a team-mate who wouldn’t run into trou­ble. Kimi Räikkö­nen, now in the au­tumn of his ca­reer, would be the per­fect foil.

Lewis right from the start proved to be a match for Fer­nando Alonso at Mclaren, but was un­pre­pared for the back­lash: in­censed to have been “held up” by Lewis early in qual­i­fy­ing in Hun­gary, 2007, Fer­nando re­fused to leave his pit­box in Q3, thus killing Lewis’s pole at­tempt. Heavy stuff – par­tic­u­larly from a dou­ble world cham­pion – but Lewis’s re­ac­tion was ex­em­plary. He stayed quiet and won the race on Sun­day.

That year, Lewis the rookie was rocked by ag­gres­sion from all quar­ters: from the Span­ish race crowds, from the FIA, from his peers, from Fer­nando Alonso. Racism bub­bled be­low the sur­face. Mclaren were fined $100m for pos­sess­ing draw­ings stolen by a Fer­rari em­ployee. Lewis seemed stunned – a new­comer who would never in a mil­lion years have imag­ined that For­mula 1 could be like this. Yet he kept his head and stretched his cham­pi­onship to the fi­nal round, in Brazil.

Along­side Jen­son, Lewis found har­mony. Even when Jen­son ar­guably forced Lewis into the wall in Canada, 2011, Lewis de­fused the mood as Jen­son awaited the restart. As F1 ges­tures go, this was sports­man­ship of the high­est cal­i­bre.

It wasn’t un­til 2014, along­side Nico in a cham­pi­onship-win­ning car, that Lewis again had to fight in­tra-team. Nico con­trived to lock the rears go­ing into Mirabeau at Monaco in Q3, thus de­priv­ing Lewis of his pole at­tempt; Lewis filed away the in­ci­dent for fur­ther ref­er­ence.


The op­por­tu­nity came in Ja­pan and then in Austin this year: on both oc­ca­sions Lewis made bril­liant starts from P2, giv­ing him­self the in­side run into the first cor­ners. On both oc­ca­sions, Lewis hung Nico out to dry.

Lewis has the harder team-mate to beat, so here Seb has the ad­van­tage: if there’s to be a Fer­rari win on any given day, the chances are that it’ll be Se­bas­tian’s. If, by con­trast, Mercedes have the edge, Lewis will still al­ways have the Nico fac­tor to over­come… and that will never be easy. There may be races, for ex­am­ple, when Lewis can beat Nico only through su­pe­rior tyre man­age­ment when Mercedes de­cide not to put their driv­ers on dif­fer­ent strate­gies.

Lewis has dealt calmly with Mclaren and Mercedes pol­i­tics when they have arisen. Seb’s hope is that Fer­rari’s team pol­i­tics will be min­i­mal: his in­flu­ence is al­ready that pro­found.


Seb re­mains a ques­tion mark. Think Sil­ver­stone, 2014, when he was rac­ing wheel-to-wheel with Fer­nando, or any of the three races he’s won with Fer­rari in 2015, and you have the per­fect, rac­ing coun­ter­part to the su­per-or­gan­ised Red Bull clone who won four world cham­pi­onships in a row. He’s the win­ner who now also races…

What, though, was Seb think­ing on the open­ing lap of the 2015 Mex­i­can GP? This was Turkey 2010, re­vis­ited; this was Seb still show­ing an un­usual de­gree of as­sump­tion. Bear in mind also that it was Daniel Ric­cia­rdo he drove into and a few more pieces fall into place: the dom­i­nant, all-con­sum­ing win­ner in Malaysia, Monza and Sin­ga­pore still has a red-mist side

to him – and it isn’t pretty. It’s my road, and I’m Seb Vet­tel. Even at the open­ing cor­ner I’m en­ti­tled to ev­ery mil­lime­tre of it.

Af­ter­wards, Seb blamed Daniel, ex­plain­ing that he, Seb, was ahead and that ev­ery­one else should have filed in be­hind him. Ex­cuse me? How does that square with Niki Lauda’s ti­tlewin­ning phi­los­o­phy of al­ways avoid­ing some­one else’s ac­ci­dent? And what was with all the other mis­takes that en­sued in Mex­ico?

Lewis, by con­trast, has in re­cent years been force­ful and ag­gres­sive to the limit of the rules and of what is ac­cept­able. He ran Nico wide at Suzuka and Austin – but he did so to per­fec­tion. Nico, on both oc­ca­sions, was still left with the op­tion of tuck­ing in be­hind for the un­der­cut or run­ning wider still. It was pure, open rac­ing.

There’s another thing, too: the Fer­rari pit­wall these days ex­horts its driv­ers into gaps that ex­ist only par­tially. “Pass him Kimi! Go for it!” Jock Clear may straighten this out in 2016, but, un­til then, the Mercedes boys can re­lax in the knowl­edge that Lewis seems to know pre­cisely when to push… and when not to. He’s a rac­ing driver. Guid­ance from the pit­wall he doesn’t need.

Given a straight race, then, Lewis ver­sus Se­bas­tian, both run­ning on equal strate­gies, you’d give the nod to Lewis.

“Seb has the ta­lent of be­ing able to mould a team around him – some­thing Lewis wouldn’t be in­ter­ested in do­ing”


Both driv­ers are low-key peo­ple who have not lost touch with who they are and where they come from: Seb loves his F1 his­tory, his retro bikes and his clas­sic sportscars. Lewis has a strong spir­i­tual faith and draws a clear line be­tween rac­ing cars for a liv­ing and liv­ing a life be­yond rac­ing. As much as the me­dia like to blur the two, and as much as Lewis is some­times bored with the finer de­tails of the tech­nol­ogy, he is the racer’s racer on Sun­days. He breaks down the com­pli­cated and makes it look sim­ple.

As good as Nico Ros­berg is, for ex­am­ple, Lewis can usu­ally find an open­ing around mid-race, when the track is evolv­ing and tyre com­pounds as­sume dif­fer­ent lev­els of grip. Lewis is For­mula 1’s most nat­u­ral, most adap­tive world cham­pion – and if that is clear in the con­text of Nico Ros­berg and Mercedes then it will also be true in the con­text of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Fer­rari. This may be the de­ci­sive fac­tor.

Both are de­voted to and spend a lot of time with their fans, although Seb’s per­sonal vis­age is now very much con­sumed by the huge brand that is Fer­rari. Like Niki and Michael be­fore him, Seb has the rare ta­lent of also be­ing able to mould a team around him: this is some­thing that Fer­nando was un­able to achieve at Mclaren or at Fer­rari, that Kimi wasn’t able to do at Fer­rari – and which Lewis wouldn’t be in­ter­ested in do­ing in the first place. It’s not merely the ques­tion of sway­ing peo­ple into ‘your’ side of the garage. It’s the abil­ity to know which peo­ple you need to sway and mak­ing it hap­pen.

Like Frank Si­na­tra, Lewis doesn’t need to write his own mu­sic: he’s good enough merely to be a part of a great team; he will then take that team and win. For Seb, it’s a dif­fer­ent thing. He has the abil­ity to make his job as un­clut­tered as pos­si­ble. Thus he has only Kimi to beat at Fer­rari; Lewis has Nico.


In terms of over­all pace, track craft and adap­ta­tion to the vari­ables, Lewis has the ad­van­tage; in terms of avoid­ing the com­pli­ca­tions of a very quick team-mate, Se­bas­tian has the cleaner route. Both will have pow­er­houses be­hind them: in James Al­li­son’s sec­ond full year at Fer­rari, it’s likely that the red cars will be right up there with the Sil­ver Ar­rows. So how will it un­fold? The heart says Lewis… but the head is in­clined to­wards Seb…

So Lewis, how does it feel to win three world ti­tles?

I can’t find the words to tell you how amaz­ing it feels. I couldn’t have done it with­out Mercedes, who have em­pow­ered me for the past three years and helped nur­ture me with the car. And then my fam­ily. I love them all.

There must be a great mix of emo­tions?

There re­ally are. I’m over­whelmed. I’ve been think­ing about my first Bri­tish cham­pi­onship where my dad and I drove home singing ‘We are the Cham­pi­ons’ – it’s crazy to think that now I’m a three-time F1 world cham­pion. I owe it all to my fam­ily who sup­ported me and sac­ri­ficed so much for me to be here. And the re­ally pos­i­tive en­ergy I get from my fans.

What does it mean to win mul­ti­ple cham­pi­onships?

It’s the pin­na­cle. Your ul­ti­mate goal is to win in ev­ery­thing you com­pete in. When I got my first one I was just grate­ful for it. I told Ron Dennis when I was ten that I wanted to be world cham­pion in his car – and it’s crazy to think that ten years af­ter he signed me, I was.

What does a third ti­tle mean for the Hamil­ton legacy?

Well, I’m not the only one who’s achieved great things in the fam­ily. My dad, com­ing from nowhere, never wanted his kids to strug­gle the way he did, so the ef­fort he put in was re­mark­able. My brother, Nick, who’s seven years younger, is one of the first dis­abled in­di­vid­u­als to race cars and he’s in­spir­ing young kids to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions, so hope­fully I can be a mas­cot for him. To be able to add to that, to know that our Hamil­ton name will be here past our lives… I’m su­per proud about it.

In con­ver­sa­tion with

Lewis Hamil­ton

How dif­fer­ent does it feel to clinch a ti­tle with three races re­main­ing, in­stead of at the last round?

The first two ti­tles were cli­mac­tic. In 2008 it was some­thing like 17 sec­onds be­fore the end of the race, and in 2014 it was amaz­ing but it took a lot out of us be­cause it was a dou­ble points race so any­thing could have hap­pened. This year feels just as spe­cial, if not more so, be­cause I have equalled Ayr­ton Senna’s three ti­tles.

Over the past cou­ple of years you seem to have gone into a more spir­i­tual zone with your driv­ing and your pri­vate life. Do you feel that way now?

Def­i­nitely. I’ve al­ways had that, but I ex­press it more now. Hav­ing that free­dom to ex­press my­self in the way I want, and be who I want to be, lets me drive bet­ter than I have ever driven. It’s dif­fi­cult to de­scribe the power I feel from within. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do and in the way I do it, and to have the ex­pe­ri­ences and op­por­tu­ni­ties I’ve had in my life.

Check­ing out the com­pe­ti­tion: loner Lewis with the Fer­rari; and quadru­ple champ Seb with the Mercedes

In terms of team­mates, Lewis has the harder job. He has the ruth­less, cal­cu­lat­ing Nico Ros­berg to over­come at Mercedes, while Seb has Kimi, now in the au­tumn of his ca­reer, play­ing merely a sup­port­ing role

“Both Lewis and Seb will have pow­er­houses be­hind them – it’s likely that the red cars will be right up there with the Sil­ver Ar­rows”

All smiles for now, at the end of 2015. But the stage is now set for 2016 and one of the most ex­cit­ing bat­tles the sport will have seen in many years, be­tween two com­pelling and fe­ro­cious com­peti­tors. Who will come out on top? Thrillingly, it could go ei­ther way...

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