As you know, Sebastian Vettel took the world title in Japan as everyone expected him to do. But not with a win. Due to tire degradation it was very hard for the Red Bulls to be competitive against the McLaren of Jenson Button. He is well-known for his tyre saving capabilities and that skill came into play around Suzuka on the Pirellis.
Even the Ferrari of Alonso jumped on the surprising weakness shown by Red Bull on something that was previously a track that suited the Red Bulls perfectly. Vettel took back to back victories here in 09 and 10. This time he had to settle for 3rd and thus made it onto the podium where he could steal most of the attention as the newly crowned double world champion. He is now the youngest ever double champion, so he can add that to his already impressive list of records.
Anyway, I have decided to dedicate this review to a look back at Sebastians extraordinary season(s). One of my most popular posts on this blog has been the piece I did on Vettels campaign about halfway through the 2010 season, The Curious Case of Sebastian Vettel 2010: https://desdirodeabike.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/curious-case-of-sebastian-vettel/
So why not take a slightly similar route and do some comparisons along the way?
A little over a year ago he was receiving massive criticism from many fronts. Mostly questions about his racecraft, his ability to overtake or win from anything but the front. Martin Whitmarsh even went as far as calling Vettel a “crash kid” : http://www.planetf1.com/news/3213/6348051/Whitmarsh-Vettel-is-a-crash-kid–
The coming together of him and Button at Spa sparked this quote and also the infamous crash in Turkey between himself and his teammate, Webber. Well, apparently what goes around, comes around. “Crash kid” no 1 is currently in his own stall. Lewis Hamilton has exclusively and by far inherited that title, if such one exists, with his countless incidents, crashes, call to the stewards and penalties this year. So I guess congratulations are in order Mr. Whitmarsh. You now have a crash kid of your very own 😉
I dont think anyone will argue that Vettels season has been as close to perfection as it pretty much can get. But mind you, also a fantastic season from his team. Yes, Vettel made some mistakes last year but we must also remember that he lost several sure wins down to the reliability of the car. This year, the reliability has been 100% perfect. Granted, there have been a few KERS issues but the Red Bull cars have finished every race. Except Webbers crash in Italy which obviously was not down to a tech problem. It seems last years championships have honed the entire team even more for winning.
But surely this years RB7 has been even more dominant than last years car, the RB6? I mean the title is secured with 4 races to go. Quite a feat with the current points system. Well, not according to Vettel: http://en.espnf1.com/redbull/motorsport/story/61110.html
He actually thinks that last years car was more dominant. What a strange thing to say. Or is it? Lets look into that.
2010 VS 2011
If we disregard reliabilty, because then the 2011 car would win hands down, but only look at performance – is there some truth to Sebastians statement, or is he just downplaying the proposed superiority of the RB7? Well if you look at my analysis of Sebastians first 12 races from last year, then there might be something to it. Really, you say? He had 2 wins by that time compared to 7 wins this year?
Lets take away the technical problems in 2010 and he without a doubt would have added 2 wins in Bahrain and Australia. Those first races were very similar to several of his wins this year. He starts out strong by building a solid gap and then just controls it from there. He did so in Malaysia last year and won, but a spark plug and brake failure when he was leading comfortably prevented that in the first 2.
Then errors and bad luck kept him from winning in Turkey, Great Britain and Hungary. If DRS had been in play last year in Turkey, passing Webber would have been undramatic. If that is a good or bad thing, I leave to you.
In Silverstone he picked up a puncture right away. His pace shown in his fight from last to 7th proves there was ample pace to securely win the race from pole. In Hungary there was his safety car distance blunder and another win lost. A (real) win in Valencia makes it 7 wins hypothetically, equal to his tally after 12 races this year.
But lets go further. We now know of Vettels mistake by crashing into Jenson Button while fighting for the lead at Spa. If we once again convey this to 2011 logic, then Vettel would have just waited until the Kemmel straight before deploying the DRS and passing Button relatively easy, judging by how much faster he was. Just like he did with Rosberg this year. Another win would have been on the table then. Move on to Singapore and the same would have been the case. He was almost inside Alonsos gearbox for much of the race but without the DRS system there was no way past him. In Monza 2010 however, the Ferrari of Alonso was clearly too strong to overcome. Not helped by Vettel only qualifying in 6th.
But add those 2 hypothetical race wins, with 2011 rules, and we end up with 9 wins with 4 races to go – just like this year. We must also remember that in 2010 he did win the Japanese GP, something the car was not capable of this year. Take all these things into account and we see that Vettel has a point, when looking at the performance of the two cars.
HOW ABOUT 2011
If anything could challenge the notion that last years car was more dominant, then it is the fact that every pole position in 2011 have been held by a Red Bull. Only 3 times has Vettel not been on pole so far. Last year it was 8 times not on pole position at this point. Another interesting fact is that the only time Sebastian led the points last year was after the final race. This year he has lead the championship from the very first race in Australia.
The simple explanation is that the car has an impeccable reliability and is not throwing away grid positions on that front. The other is that Vettel is hardly making mistakes anymore and has only improved his impressive one lap pace. He is smarter, better and faster than last year.
I will pick out a couple of wins (of many) that has really impressed me.
He was hounded by Hamilton, lap after lap and still kept him behind. Braking late at the exact same place at turn one and using the strenghts of the car in the twisty sections to gain enough of a gap to prevent the McLaren from passing him on the straight. In the end he was less than a second ahead of Hamilton at the finish line. Just for comparison: In 2010, Mark Webber won the race with 24 seconds down to Alonso in 2nd place. Quite a performance difference. The only time Vettel had such a gap when winning in 2011, was the first race in Australia. Granted, he has often slowed on the final laps giving away seconds of his lead. As I said, this arguably shows that he is driving smarter.
A mistake in the pits from fitting the wrong set of tires was turned around and used as an advantage by Vettel. Because of the nature of Monaco where it is near impossible to pass, he kept Alonso at bay lap after lap. Saving the tires in the slow turns where no one can get by anyway, only using their performance where passing was a possibility. Not making any mistakes with the Monaco barriers only inches away while on badly worn tires. He caught a lucky break with the race being red flagged and tires could be changed. But according to himself, he had more than enough life in them to last the final laps anyway. A masterful performance.
For Red Bull to win at the high speed track of Monza is quite a sensation. Not taking anything away from Sebastians win, but I dare say that the work of the team is the most impressive here. To turn their car into a Monza winner when it traditionally has been their weakest track is very impressive. Their competitors should take note of this. Even on a lot smaller budget than the two biggest teams, it seems like they have vast personnel resources and know-how to achieve just about everything they set out to do.
A lot of this success story is of course down to the genius of Adrian Newey, Chief Designer. That cannot be denied. Only that one man does not make a team and their operation is a silky smooth entity with the wheels well oiled and all turning in the same direction. Unlike a certain Latin team that has taken the approach of firing people left and right to get back to the front. The Dream Team of the 00’s is no more and it looks to have been shifted to the drinks company instead.
WHAT’S TO COME
Next race is Korea. You will probably remember that Vettel had an engine failure while comfortably leading the race in 2010. This would suggest that there is another win in the cards for the German on Sunday, judging by the outstanding reliability they have enjoyed so far. Of course, the engines have all been used by now if I remember correctly, so anything can obviously happen.
If you want to read my Korea 2010 race review that I put into rhyme, the link is here: https://desdirodeabike.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/korea-gp-10-come-children-gather-round/
Written at a time when I thought the championship was already decided in Ferraris favor :-p
India is an unknown but he won in Brazil and Abu Dhabi last year so it will be interesting to see how this years Red Bull can hold up against the McLaren that seems to be on a late power surge. Remember Button closing in fast on the final laps in Singapore? If McLaren get 2 wins or more in the final races, then I could agree to Vettels statement on the RB6 of last year being a more dominant car. Performance wise.
One might say that Red Bull was pushing to the end last year because of the title fight. Now that is already won and by Red Bull taking it easier may give McLaren a couple of wins. Well, not really since the constructors title has not been won yet. That title is just as important for the Milton Keynes team. Not to mention the prize money. They will be pushing hard until that is secure as well.
I know a lot of the above is speculation and ifs and buts. In the end it doesnt really matter if last years car was more dominant or not. The one thing we do know is that Red Bull and Vettel have made the most of almost every situation. Its a perfect partnership. The only cog that doesnt quite fit is Mark Webber. He is only 4th in the championship, 130 points behind Vettel. A huge gap by any measure. If Red Bull had two Webbers instead of one Vettel, then Jenson Button would be well on his way to get his second championship. Webber is in the same car, so what is the problem?
He has two major problems this year as I see it. Well, three. The first and probably biggest is the Pirelli tires. They have not been kind to him and there clearly is something in the combination of the RB7 and the Pirellis that is not his cup of tea. What is more worrying is that after 15 races, they do not seem much closer to a solution that helps him qualify better or finish higher up. Which brings me to perhaps his biggest problem: Sebastian Vettel. As Mark Webber put it himself: “Unfortunately, when I got myself in a good car, I had Sebastian as a teammate. Jenson didn’t have that at Brawn; he had Rubens..”
His final big problem is the starts. He has lost places in the last 6 races, except Japan where he actually kept his position. But it was down in 6th, so not really that impressive. Word is that the clutch is so extremely sensitive on the Red Bull that it takes incredible finesse to balance it at the biting point in the start. Most likely due to the tightly wrapped design of Newey. Vettel has pretty much mastered this, and Webber not.
It seems that he has accepted his role as a backup for Vettel. Especially since he was quoted for saying that he thought 2010 was his last shot at winning the title. A quote he later withdrew however. I wonder if he will retire after next year. Another mediocre season like this, then surely.
Next year the ballgame is much of the same. Same tires, same rules, same engines. The major difference is no more blown diffuser. Will that send Red Bull down the order? Maybe, but most likely not. Adrian Newey is sounding really confident already on next years design. Will be interesting to see what he has cooked up and how long it takes for the others to start copying it. Ferrari are bullish too. Saying their car has some aggressive solutions. Time will tell. But for now I will enjoy the final races before the off-season starts.
Take care. And big congrats to Mr.Vettel on his second championship!
Images © Red Bull, Mark Thompson, Clive Rose/Getty Images