Vettel’s legacy

The 2012 F1 season saw Sebastian Vettel win a third consecutive F1 World Drivers’ Championship, joining only two other drivers in the 62 year history of the sport to achieve that honour. Only 8 other drivers have won three or more world titles, none of which are still competing. Vettel goes into this season again as one of the favourites to win the title.

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2011, Grand Prix of Japan

Vettel is the youngest driver to compete in a F1 Grand Prix session, achieve a pole position, lead a race, win a race, and score championship points. That’s on top of being the youngest ever double and triple world champion. Despite all these accolades, some F1 fans still don’t consider Vettel to be one of the truly great drivers. So what more does Vettel need to do, what more does he have to achieve, in order to be more widely accepted by F1 fans as one of the very best ever?

Granted, records aren’t everything, and there’s more to a great F1 driver than just being a world champion. Also it’s hard to judge just how good a driver is while they’re not only still competing, but still have the majority of their career ahead of them. Only by looking back do we really appreciate talent.

Vettel is only 25 years old. He still has, all things going well, a career of at least another 10 years ahead of him. Perhaps this is why some are yet to be convinced; perhaps with so much potential in future, it’s hard to grasp his talent now.

In 2006 when Schumacher retired having won a record seven world titles, many believed and still do that the achievement will never be duplicated. Vettel will surely win another title, probably two or three, and perhaps even more depending on circumstances if things go his way. If seems if anyone is going to get close to Schumacher’s seven world titles then Vettel is the guy with the ability and opportunity to do so.

One of the reasons some doubt Vettel’s talent is that for the past three title-winning seasons he’s had the best car on the grid. McLaren and Ferrari have for the most part had competitive cars to match the Red Bull car, but seem to always be playing catch-up.

Some say the success of the Red Bull team, and therefore also Vettel, is only due to the genius of chief technical officer Adrian Newey. Clearly the only car designer to have won Constructors’ Championships with three different F1 teams continues to make a huge contribution to the team’s success, but the cars haven’t been dominant every race of every season. Success doesn’t come just from building a great race car; a great driver is needed to achieve the results. This is apparent by the difference in results between teammates, for example between Vettel/Webber and Alonso/Massa.

It’s the same point that some make against Schumacher’s legacy. His dominance through the early 2000s that saw him win five consecutive world titles was the culmination of many factors and not just his talent, though there is no doubting that. In both cases even with the best car, both drivers still had to consistently perform at the highest level and certainly weren’t simply gifted any of their world titles.

Two of the greatest F1 drivers in history, Ayrton Senna and Jim Clark, both won their multiple world titles with the same team. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for these two, so it makes no sense for it to be deemed detrimental to Vettel’s championships. It’s not just that a driver wins the world title because he’s in the best car; the best drivers usually drive for the best teams.

Vettel’s already established a legacy as one of the best ever, the question now is how much more will he achieve to add to it.


  1. […] Vettel’s legacy (Keen on F1) […]

  2. Kelsier · · Reply

    I think some of the resentment against Vettels titles is that Red bull was not the best team when he joined them. Before he joined they where quite bad, sometimes worse than Torro rosso. In that way he kinda lucked in to a team that became great just when he joined. Different to Senna’s situation is that he was already established as one of the best drivers and deserving of a world title.
    People always feel that titles won with little opposition from their teammates are less deserved also.

  3. Oscar Jean Diaz Bustamante · · Reply

    ” It’s not just that a driver wins the world title because he’s in the best car; the best drivers usually drive for the best teams”… and the best team (Red Bull) have a Vettel.
    Magnificent words, this article is supreme.
    Greetings from a Vettelista.

  4. I always think of what Hamilton said, Alonso will hit every apex and do a perfect lap, Vettel will only hit half and still get pole. Great driver, don’t get me wrong. He won a race with Toro Rosso, It wasn’t a winning car. All I’m saying is he definitely isn’t the best driver on the grid. :) Great article.

  5. Sgt. Pepper · · Reply

    I fear the author still doesn’t grasp the core what Vettel’s critics are arguing. We never dispute that Vettel is quick, that’s obvious. But to be considered one of the ‘greats’ he must be an all round excellent driver, and consistent as well. Vettel is only able to deliver when driving a car leagues ahead of the rest of the field, if lacking that he languishes in the mid-field. He is also hopeless in traffic, be they backmarkers or other competetors, even in Abu Dhabi he hit TWO cars, but the competetiveness of his car and RB screwing over Webber’s race to get him out the way led this to not matter. When we think of Senna, we think of him in the Lotus, or even a Toleman in Monaco, when we think of Prost we consider his incredible tactics and ability to destroy the competition when he had to – we don’t think about his 1993 victory in a Williams because it’s meaningless, he had by far the best car, and a relatively compliant team mate. When we think of Mansell, it’s his incredible drives in the late 80s and the arguably deserved championships that slipped through his fingers – we don’t think about the 1992 championship for the same reason as Prost’s ’93, there wasn’t any possible way he was going to lose it in a car that superior.
    This is the case with Vettel – yeah the kid has speed from the front, but even Brundle stated in a recent autosport conference that Alonso deserved the title, he dragged a vastly inferior car to competing and almost beating a vastly superior one (and I’m anything but an Alonso fan and Ferrari fan). That is why Alonso is considered to deserved the 2012 championship, and that is why despite having three (undeserved) championships, Alonso is still more respected and admired.

  6. This post was a response to being irked by those who say Vettel doesn’t deserve his 3 WDCs. Sure the Red Bull has been the best car the past 3 seasons but that doesn’t mean Vettel hasn’t raced and won the championships fairly and legitimately. I think Vettel has shown he does have racing ability and isn’t only able to lead and win from the front, and is still maturing as a driver. Alonso’s performance through 2012, staying in the title race with an underperforming Ferrari, made me a fan of his – despite being a Vettel fan for years I would have been happy to see either driver win the 2012 title. I think Alonso is the best driver on the grid at the moment, and probably was more ‘deserving’ of the 2012 title, but titles are won not awarded so it’s unfair to diminish Vettel’s achievements.

  7. Sgt. Pepper · · Reply

    I agree with you that the RB being the best car isn’t a good enough reason to deserve the championship, particularly three in a row. The reason he doesn’t deserve the championship, and particularly three in a row, is because he has proven repeatedly;
    1) That he’s useless in ALL traffic. Turkey 2010, Spa with Button (was that 2011?), various tantrums at karteikeyan, two crashes in Abu Dhabi, and Brazil 2012, I could go on…he turns in on people feeling he has a god-given right to the corner because he’s the golden boy.
    2) He cannot perform without a Newey car – Vettel was miles behind in the championship, despite having a superior car to the Ferrari – it was only the Asia update that led him to go on his usual, dull, undeserving winning streaks.
    3) He drives with no flare, no passion, no style. Although this is a little more subjective, why do you think drivers like Gilles Villenuve, who never even WON a championship, are still so revered, or why Hakkinen’s pass on Schumacher in Spa is played over and over again. Vettel NEVER pulls moves like this, because he knows he doesn’t have the ability, and even when he does try it, he can’t without the usual, self-righteous indignance that causes incidents, e.g trying to kill Alonso in Monza.

    These are not the marks of a great driver, three championships or not.

    Swap Vettel’s and Alonso’s seats, see if he’s even vaugly capable of beating Alonso, or Hamilton then, and I’ll happily change my opinion – but he couldn’t, and even the most dogged Vettel fans cannot deny this.

  8. They’ve been 3 different seasons. In 2010 it was a close title race through the season, everyone was focused on the battle between Webber and Alonso, and Vettel snatched the title from both of them in the final race. In 2011 Vettel dominated with a far superior Red Bull car; but Button was the same in 2009, winning 6 of the first 7 races with a superior Brawn car. I don’t see why some say Seb had it easy in 2011 and that Jenson didn’t in 2009. Last year (2012) Vettel was only 39 points behind championship leader Alonso at the end of the Italian GP, 13 races into the season. Without the alternator failures at Valencia and Monza I’m sure that points difference would’ve been much less. The RBR upgrade for the Asia leg where Vettel won 4 races straight can be seen another way, as the other teams’ failure to improve their cars. We’ve not seen Vettel pull great overtakes because he’s not needed to, surely a top driver wants to keep himself at the front away from the rest; just because it may be boring for viewers to watch Vettel drive from pole to a win repeatedly, that doesn’t mean he should be put down for doing that. Similarly a driver doesn’t need to drive with flair to be great, Vettel’s similar to Schumacher who was much more clinical with his driving style. Vettel does come across as egotistical, but so do Alonso and Hamilton, though I agree sometimes Seb has shown his inexperience with his actions. Perhaps we can agree that with Vettel still very much in the infancy of this F1 career time will show us just how good (or not) a driver he is.

    1. The Brawn thing was more everyone getting caught up in the romanticism of what had happened – the team was snatched from the jaws of doom, turned up with a car that on the surface was fairly unassuming but underneath was a monster and they took both titles.

      When you look into the background (the Honda budget, the double-diffuser, the sacking of half the factory) everything looks less peachy, compounded by the fact the sale of the team made Brawn & Fry even more obscenely rich.

  9. Sgt. Pepper · · Reply

    It’s good you bring up the 2009 Brawn – there’s two things to say about that. Firstly, I feel that perhaps Button draws less criticism because he’s extremely likable, Vettel isn’t, so perhaps that skews the opinions of the two. However, more importantly, Button is highly respected but not considered one of the ‘greats’ either, but for slightly different reasons. Whereas Vettel cannot perform unless his car easily outclasses the rest of the field, Button cannot perform when struggling with tyres or setup, whereas Alonso (or perhaps Hamilton) can drag literally everything out of their car, even when circumstances are not ideal. Therefore I think you’re kind of right about Button drawing less criticism, but his 2009 victory is also regularly mentioned alongside the disspraportionately superior car, and even though he’s regularly outscored Hamilton, perhaps because of this Hamilton is still more regularly, highly admired. Maybe this isn’t fair on Button, but that’s the impression I get from those who speak about him, even showed on the comparison profile on F1 Fanatic.

    Concerning the Asia update, you’re also absolutely correct to label this as a shortcoming in the development of the other teams – Ferrari’s in particular was hopeless in 2012. However, this is also unrelated to the criticism of Vettel, despite being a highly legitimate criticism of the other teams. On a sidenote, I also wish Ron Dennis would return to Mclaren – Whitmarsh appears better at managing personalities, but worse and sorting out a good car, and the team in general.

    Finally, you’re right about those two being egotistical, although Alonso does appear to have been humbled slightly recently, I used to find him pretty loathesome. However, although you’re right about it not being a legitimate critique to simply denounce a driver because it’s dull watching him lead from the front, it is legitimate to critique him for his utter lack of finesse and hopeless clumsiness while going wheel to wheel with other cars. And to me that’s the mark of a true ‘racer’, and why he will never be considered an all time great, irrespective of how many records he’ll accrue, he’ll most likely never develop that awareness of where other cars are and how to behave in split second decisions, it seems to be something you’re born with. He was born with speed (while in the best car), and that’s it.

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