FACT OF THE MATTER
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 dene 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