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F1 Opinion 56

Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel has a head for stats and clearly enjoys the status they bring.

Last Sunday in India he moved ahead of Jim Clark on 26 Grand Prix victories. This Sunday in Abu Dhabi he could match Jackie Stewart: 27 wins from 99 starts. Plus there is a strong chance that by the end of this month he will be equal with JYS on three Formula 1 world championships.

opinion  Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

Stewart spread his titles over five seasons whereas Vettel is likely to pack his into three consecutive, a feat bettered only by Juan Fangio and Michael Schumacher. And yet Vettel is just 25.

His age is a part of the ‘problem’. Ours, not his. You would think that a driver bearing such a weighty haul so easily on his young shoulders would be simple to assess: a Mozartian prodigy.

Except that he failed to win a race during his first season in the Formula 3 Euro Series and was beaten to the title by team-mate Paul di Resta in his second.

Though he was so obviously greater than the sum of these numbers from the moment of his first Friday Free Practice with BMW Sauber in 2006, even his ‘telling’ F1 stats are skewed: by a heavy reliance on runaway wins from pole positions in cars designed by Adrian Newey. Nineteen of those 26 were secured from P1. That’s 73 per cent – more than confirmed frontrunners Ayrton Senna (71%), Clark (64%) and Schumacher (44%).

In contrast, Vettel’s tally in the subjective – and therefore less scientific and thus endlessly debatable – ‘racer’ column stands at a solitary one: his outside pass of Fernando Alonso at Monza’s Curva Grande in 2011.

opinion  Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

In Jenksian parlance, he has the ‘tenths’ but does he possess the ‘tiger’? Think Jean Behra hunkered in a Gordini sucked along by the draft of three Mercedes-Benz stromlinienwagens at the 1954 non-championship Berlin Grand Prix. Think Graham Hill’s escape road-to-victory at Monaco in 1965. Think Gilles Villeneuve in 1980. Think Alonso in 2012.

The prima facie evidence is damning. When this year’s Red Bull was off the pace in Qualifying, smooth Vettel tended not to catch the eye in the races, winning just once. Alonso, in contrast, was all tooth, claw and cunning.

But did the maligned Ferrari provide the Spaniard with more room for such manoeuvres than did Vettel’s RB8?

Newey’s cars, as did Colin Chapman’s Lotuses, win so regularly because they are more tightly packaged and push the envelope further. They are designed to run at the front. That’s why when they were dragged into the melee their finer balance was disturbed and their lack of straight-line speed often left them marooned and occasionally vulnerable to attack.

The banning of exhaust-blown diffusers hit Red Bull harder than it did any other team. So dramatic a change was it that it took Newey and his techies until September to recover the aero lost. Not all of it, but more than their rivals have, and in sufficient quantity to put Vettel back where he is at his efficient best.

opinion  Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

The German has led every lap since Lewis Hamiton’s McLaren coasted to a halt because of a gearbox failure in Singapore, and for the first time in his career he has won four on the bounce in the same season. If he wins in Abu Dhabi he will join Jack Brabham (1960), Jim Clark (1965), Nigel Mansell (1992) and Schumacher (2004) on five in a row. (Schumacher also won seven in succession during that most thorough of campaigns.)

Unlike those peers, however, Vettel potentially is not yet at the mid-point of his career. He hasn’t vibrated his mirrors off and showered his chasers with muck and tuffets, or manhandled a saloon to prove his versatility and exhibit his raciness, or sat in a bath of petrol to show his toughness, or barged open a controversial -gate or three to help us harden and then split our opinion of him. Yes, he scored an incredible maiden GP victory in circumstances similar to Senna’s, but since then he has been busy ‘simply’ doing his job: winning.

Of the greats, he is today perhaps most like Alberto Ascari: 69 per cent of wins from pole.

Many contemporaries considered the tubby Italian in the sky-blue basin helmet to be faster than Fangio, to be peerless at the head of a field but perhaps lacking the metaphorical stomach for a fight. Superstitious to the point of fatalistic, he was a creature of habit: pole (often by a wide margin), followed by a rocket start and three hours of unstinting concentration, unwavering stamina and unerring accuracy.

Handed a car advantage, and in the absence of the injured Fangio, he came within a second of sweeping the GPs he contested in 1952: six wins, six fastest laps, five poles.

opinion  Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

He won the first three of 1953 too.

This amazing sequence concluded at the ‘Race of the Century’: the French GP in July. Though he qualified on pole at Reims, and though he was always in the rough-and-tumble of a “deadly struggle”, he led not a single lap. Instead it was Ferrari newcomer Mike Hawthorn who fought tigerishly for the lead with the Maserati of Fangio. They were mere feet apart when they crossed the line to begin the final lap, while Ascari and Maserati’s Froilán González, in close attendance, dead-heated for third.

The six-cylinder Masers had a superior top speed while the four-cylinder Ferraris had better handling and brakes… but it was the inexperienced Hawthorn who outfumbled Fangio at the last corner, the cobbled Thillois; Ascari finished fourth having somewhere, somehow, scrubbed away 3.2 seconds.

There was more of the same at Monza in September, though Ascari was keener to assert his authority in front of a home crowd and so led in batches of laps while team-mate Giuseppe Farina and Fangio made do with one or two here and there.

The situation was muddied by the presence of Fangio’s protégé Onofre Marimón – several laps in arrears because of repairs to his Maserati’s oil cooler but able to run at the leaders’ pace – and Ferrari’s Luigi Villoresi. The latter, also lapped, was supporting his protégé Ascari against not only the Maseratis but also Farina, who was still seething because Ascari had ignored team orders to win the preceding Swiss GP. Alberto was not totally without moxie.

opinion  Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

At Monza, he crossed the line in the lead from laps 53-79. But at the last corner, the cobbled Parabolica, he slid wide and was punted into retirement by Marimón. Some reports reckoned spilled oil to be the cause, others that Farina had bullied him. The upshots were that Fangio won and the whisper campaign about Ascari’s vulnerable heel continued.

Circumstances conspired against him thereafter and he contested just six more GPs, retiring from them all, before suffering a fatal crash while testing a Ferrari sports car at Monza in May 1955. As such, one facet of his GP career sparkles for all time while the other remains forever uncut.

Vettel, no matter his stats, must one day emerge successful from a ‘personal Thillois’ or ‘Parabolica’ if he’s to be deemed better than Ascari, better than Stewart, as good as Clark.

He has the time and ability for that to happen. But will he get the opportunity? Does he even want the opportunity?

The latter question lies at the root of the rumour – and denials – of his signing for Ferrari.

Add your comments

56 comments on Question marks over Sebastian Vettel

  1. Uncle Iberian, 1 November 2012 12:23

    There are no question marks, really. All question marks over VET are made up by journalists. When Seb has to pass a car in front of him – he does it, but normally people are paying more attention to other drivers, supposedly driving their hearts out and living their dreams with corporate sponsors, posting irrelevant stuff on Twitter and wearing gloomy faces.

    It’s also tricky to compare different eras, I know it’s Mot Mag’s trade mark, the core business so to speak; whatever the case, 1950s and current times can’t and shouldn’t be compared (in my opinion). Otherwise we’ll start taking into account drivers’ levels of fitness and looks…

    I suspect VET doesn’t even want to be compared or to be deemed better or worse than other great champions, that’s an excursion into sofa expertise.

  2. Michael Spitale, 1 November 2012 12:44

    Sick and tired of journalist and other drivers whining about Vettel. The guy is amazing. He won in a Toro Rosso for crying out loud. I think Alonso and Hamilton sound like babies trying to give all the credit to Newey hoping to break Vettel mentally. However, nothing seems to break him, he just goes fast! Hmailton had the fastest car in F1 his first 2 years and has had a car capable of winning every year after. Alonso has demanded complete control over his teammate from almost day one making them move at his becken call.

    Vettel is a great, there will be a time when his car is not tops. However, that will still not stop him from getting every last drop out of the car. Ask his much senior teammate how easy it is to win titles every year.

  3. Alex Harmer, 1 November 2012 12:59

    Just thought I should point this out before things get even more vitriolic, but this article is about outside opinions of Vettel, it’s not out to criticise him. The Ascari comparison is not one of talent or ability, but is there as a reminder that this has happened before.

    There’s no whining here, just a look at the stance many people are taking on Vettel, without taking sides.


  4. Pat Kenny, 1 November 2012 12:59

    As we face into the end of this season the only outcome is that one driver will end up as a three time champion. In all cases when a driver does that it marks them out as something special. I don’t see why Vettel should be seen as any different to Alonso in this regard – if anything Red Bull seem more naturally drawn to driver parity than was Renault back in the day when the team manager was the manager of one driver and also owned the TV rights for that driver’s country. To me what marks a world champion out is did he race against a true great in the same car to achieve it. Of the two only Alonso has had that opportunity and he did not much like it. That is why, even as I always favoured Senna, I will not have a bad word said against Prost who won all 4 of his titles with a someone who was or who would go on to be champion in their own right. Both of this years title challengers would benefit, from the perspective of their place amongst the pantheon of the greats, if they did become team mates in 2014. Now that would be something special but it is not likely to happen.

  5. C C, 1 November 2012 13:07

    There is no question mark. He’s the real deal. He sticks it on pole and clears off – fine, but when asked, he can fight in the pack, and unlike other drivers, he’s willing to have a go and take on 50/50 overtakes.

    Sure, there’s no duller race to watch than when he clears off from pole, does his quick 2 laps to break the DRS, and then controls the race – but a driver who uses a boring tactic (that works) can still be great.

    And guess what, he actually has a personality too, something Schuey, Senna, Hamilton and Alonso could only dream off.

    Not a massive Vettle fan, but lets not question how good he is.

  6. Richard Craig, 1 November 2012 14:01

    @Pat Kenny – an excellent point.

    @CC – I don’t think anyone could accuse Senna of not having a personality

    Most people want to question Vettel’s achievements because otherwise we’ll just have to accept that he is actually that good, and will dominate in the same way as Schumacher/ Rossi/Loeb have done. And I don’t want that!

  7. Tom, 1 November 2012 16:02

    Seb strikes me as too smart to give up a winning car and designer, for money or because Bernie wants him to (or whatever the hell Hamilton is moving to Mercedes for).

    There have been other “racer” moments, notably in the Toro Rosso, and not only that unbelievable Monza win. Why was Lewis Hamilton’s world title perilously close to slipping away in Brazil in 2008? Because Vettel had passed him.

    And here’s a bad word against Prost – he refused to have Senna or Mansell as his team-mate at Williams.

  8. dave cubbedge, 1 November 2012 16:11

    I like Vettel, a much better champion than his fellow countryman, but I have always found it much too ‘easy’ to jump on the bandwagon of the current star which is why I like his team mate better regardless of result. I get a huge satisfaction out of a Webber win while Seb’s are expected.

    And before we forget Monza 2008, remember the weekend was drenched, had it been dry most likely Vettel wouldn’t have had the result we all cheered for.

    It would be nice to see Seb actually fight for a victory rather than drive away into the distance Ascari style…. I am sure someone will refresh my memory, but I can’t seem to recall one.

  9. Alastair Warren, 1 November 2012 16:22

    Hamilton almost lost the 2008 WDC due to Vettel passing him at Interlagos? Nothing to do with Hamilton being stripped of that win at Spa then?

    Can we make it the law that everytime 2008 is mentioned ‘Massa showed such dignity etc.’ there’s an asterix pointing out that Hamilton was stripped of a win at Spa for racing?

    Have we seen anything this season that compares with that dice between Hamilton and Räikkönen at Spa in 2008?

  10. DDT, 1 November 2012 16:24

    Modern F1 demands much more from a driver that the lower ranks, where sheer speed and daring can pay off. The machine is fighter jet complicated, and the 100s of engineers on the team put a premium on communication and political savvy. Unproven technology brings the need to adapt quickly to squirrely or problematic components, like the PIrellis or rapid changes to aero rules. The ability to give interviews, and shmooze the sponsors and their wives should not be underestimated, etiher.

    So a kid who might not be the fastest, can do very well if he can master the other dimensions of the job. Schumacher paved the way for what is now known as ‘the complete package’.

    Vettel is said to be extremely smart, understanding the car, the tires and the strategy easily. He has the perfect personality for the team, press and sponsors. He is even his own agent. Since he won’t get the maximum amount of money that way, he is obviously committed to the driving, which says a lot about his inner motivations.

    So, really the only question is how much is Newey’s design and how much Seb himself? Mark Webber has pretty much answered that.

  11. Bob Graham, 1 November 2012 16:25

    . . . Or Mansell’s pass of Berger on Mexico’s Peraltada!

  12. Jim Ireland, 1 November 2012 19:05

    Yep, Vettel’s had a great car alright.

  13. John B, 1 November 2012 19:43

    Surely Prost only stopped Mansell and Senna going to Williams because they were both whining prats, not because he was scared of their ability.
    Ok Vettel may get pole and clear off in the best car – but he’s still got to be good enough to do just that!
    I prefer Webber ( I’m Australian so declaring conflict of interest) but give Seb his dues – he gets the job done.

  14. John Read, 1 November 2012 20:38

    Another thought-provoking contribution from Mr Fearnley.

    Vettel is only going to get better, and he is not too bad now!

    Of course us old sages were providing character references for him a couple of years ago when Webber was trying to “play’ with his mind, but he was only 23 or something at the time. It was a high pressure public learning curve for him and he seems to have come through it a wiser person.

    In the meantime, he still won the titles. As a Webber fan from Oz, I can only dream that Webber had someone else at Red Bull as a team mate because I think he is good enough to have been WDC.

    As to vetting team mates and/or trying to dominate them in any way, I think that is also a necessary part of being a successful F1 driver, so it’s a bit harsh to be having a go at Prost because they all do it, or try to.

  15. Joel, 1 November 2012 22:08

    Was it Barcelona 2011 when Seb exited the pits and needed to pass 3 or 4 cars to ensure he kept the lead? Was pretty impressive at Barcelona despite the new tyres and faster car. His pass around the outside of Rosberg at Melbourne this year was also quite good. Regardless, I enjoy the fact that there are so many world champions on the grid that cause us to have such debates like this

  16. Elusive American F1 Fan, 2 November 2012 00:18

    Wasn’t it the whinging brummie Mansell who threw a hissy fit when he learned Prost was to join Ferrari (causing him to rejoin Williams) and, later, to leave Williams to join CART when he learned Prost had signed for Williams for ’92?

    Is there really a question as to which was the faster driver?

  17. Bill, 2 November 2012 00:43

    ´even his ‘telling’ F1 stats are skewed´

    Are they? This year Mclaren started with a rocketship car, 7 tenths faster than the RB8, yet after 4 races the standings were:

    Vettel: P1, 53 points
    Hamilton: P2, 49 points
    Button: P4, 43 points

    This is what Vettels rival, Mclaren team boss McGrath said about the later part of 2011:

    “He must be a brilliant driver, because by the end of last season we definitely had the best car and he was still whupping us,” McGrath said.”We’re trying to figure out exactly what he’s doing that’s so good. How does he pull out that fast qualifying lap every time? We think it’s driver skill. There’s no trickery on the cars, he just gets more out of it than we do.”

    And you rightly point to that Monza race, where Vettel won in an inferior car to the Mercedes powered Mclaren, but he did the same at Spa, a race earlier.

    More ‘skewed’ stats then: He scored 35 of torror rossos total of 39 points in 2008, scored 5 points in 6 races, wich was more than liuzi and scot speed combined over entire 2007.
    Vettel had a run of 19 consecutive races where he didnt finish lower than P4 end of 2010> 17 races into 2011 untill his engine went in abu dahbi. If you include 2010 Korea where his engine also blew, he had a run of 23 consecutive races never lower than P4.

  18. Bill, 2 November 2012 00:46

    This season, right before that Singapore race he was 2 points behind Hamilton in the then superior Mclaren. Finished all races bar Malaysia bcs of Karthikeyan, and Valencia and Monza, bcs of altenator. The rest: 2,5,1,6,4,4,3,5,4,2,1,1,1,1.

    If these stats dont prove Vettel is a racer, nothing will.

    Well, ok, maybe you should rerun this years Spa race, where Vettel started P10, and finished P2, ahead of P2 starting, Spa specialist Kimi Raikonen, with breathtaking overtakes.

    Oh, while were at it, rerun Spa 2011 as well. His outside pass on Rosberg was as balsy as they come, too. No solitary one ‘racer’ wins with me, sir!

  19. Bill, 2 November 2012 01:02

    So, if he wins a third consecutive title, its not ‘just’ because he wins so easy from pole, its because he works so damn hard in the races he doesnt win. He hardly ever makes a mistake, also when he qualifies low. He sets the bar so high our rapper/driver Hamilton looks very exposed, quick as he is over a lap. Hamilton also showed getting pole isnt just a guarantee for a win.

    Another overlooked factor is: he gets the best out of his team, gels well together, and almost all of them rave about Vettels commitment, long hous in the garage, just like Senna and Schumacher and Alonso. No MTV parties or Vettel. He doesnt even have a (girlband) manager. No tweets of setup sheets.

    He comes over as very clever, witty, last year the Autosport awards for instance. Funny, down to earth guy. Sure he gets angry sometimes, but its far, far less than the rapper/driver it seems. He doesnt need a bubble around him.

    At the moment Vettel is the benchmark in F1, together with Alonso. Nobody comes even close to these guys. And its a joy to watch. Whoever wins this years title, it comes from a guy who worked hard enough and stayed focus even in races his car wasnt the best.

  20. tom, 2 November 2012 07:48

    ^^ Bill
    i love your comments… you’re my hero…

    Everybody seems too much belittle vettel for what his achievements… some driver never have the personality as fun as him, which why all his crew praise and highly motivated to support him (i know it by watching redbull momentum videos)… that’s why he defend all credit for his team after alonso comments. f1 is combination of car, racer, and crews!! even alonso forget that!! all he can do just blame around like he always moaned when he is in renault “i’m fighting all alone”.

    why he called “baby Schumi” is because his high attention to detail, his complaint and curiosity for every aspect of his car, why he stay late at night in the garage/pit with the crew to ensure everything will go right… its called commitment and hard work! even in top gear f1 test drive, he evaluate the liana tyre pressure, unlike others…

    if you want to know how good he is on the same car, look how he consecutively won the nation cup in ROC and became the fastest f1 driver in top gear Liana test drive…

    some forget, On his testing debut, Vettel set the fastest time in the second Friday Free Practice before the race. In his second testing session in the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, he set the fastest time in both Friday practice sessions!! this guy just pure talented…

  21. Paul Fearnley, 2 November 2012 09:06

    Vettel is: quick, smart, focused, increasingly patient when required, calm under pressure, accurate, full of finesse, energising, on good terms with Bernie Ecclestone – all things that a successful modern Formula 1 driver needs to be.

    His stats are impressive too.

    But would you yet place him above the likes of Clark or Stewart in the pantheon? Or Alonso? And if not, why not?

    Which is precisely my point. His F1 career has been one-dimensional – in a good way: poles, wins, fastest laps. But one-dimensional nevertheless.

    I’m a fan of his. As such, I am looking forward to the moments in his career that count for as much, if not more, than his stats.

    They will come.

    PS I would place him ahead of Ascari.

  22. Bill, 2 November 2012 10:57

    Hey Paul, youre a phenomenal writer, and the piece about Ascari was as informative as ever. I just dont understand what you mean with one dimensional career of Vettel.

    Hes done it all but somehow has yet to prove a point? As Tom (thanks for the nice words!) and I pointed out: there is a lot more than just stats to him. Just rerun that Spa race 2 months ago. Or last years.

    Do I rate him amongst Clark and Stewart? I do, since last year, esp Spa, Monza (or that crazy fight, lap after lap in Spain w Hamilton). This season is a much harder fought battle where he doesnt disappoint and fights in a car not the best in all races. Its not like he only came alive since Singapore. Looking at FP1 times now this Abu Dahbi race the Mclaren is at least equal to the RB8.

    Just read Clark bio on the bbc, wich is one big stat fest. I tell you, if Vettel wouldv lived in his day, there would never be a Christian Horner coming on the radio, to hold down the pace once hes 10 seconds in front. Vettel would probably lap the field in some races. You should consider that in todays F1, these defining excesses arent allowed anymore.

    As for his good stead with Ecclestone…so do Alonso and Hamilton, who both would be without a drive for 2 years over spygate (or crashgate/liegate/isitbecauseimblackgate/etc) if it wasnt for Bernie. ;)

  23. Paul Fearnley, 2 November 2012 11:52

    Dear Bill,

    You make a strong case. As does Mr Vettel.

    It’s weird, I agree, that I am sat here waiting to be ‘entirely convinced’ by him – and yet I am. And I’m not alone in that.

    As for his getting along with Mr E… that was not meant to be a dig at Seb. He possesses wisdom beyond his years.

    On a personal note, I met him about six years ago. He was still with Sauber and somewhat bizarrely drove a diesel BMW 3-Series, the ground-breaking Nürburgring 24 Hours winner, for an article that appeared in a green/enviro version of F1 Racing.

    He was terrific.

    I wrote that we should not be surprised if one day he became F1 world champion… in a diesel-engined car. Half-right. Again.

  24. Bill, 2 November 2012 15:42

    Haha, diesel engined F1 cars. :)

    Its your (and others) good right to remain not totally convinced just yet, but I felt the need to put some of those ‘skewed’ stats right. I sometimes get the feeling Vettel needs to overcome questions and tasks nobody ever asked other (great) drivers.

    Andrew Benson wrote, in a unique personal adress to Lewis Hamilton on the BBC website at the end of 2007 “Dont worry Lewis, for you will win many, many championships” and yet, here we are in 2012 and he has only one championship (vs Massa) to his name, and lots of questions whether he has all the other things besides speed, needed to actually make those ‘many, many’ championships happen. Traits that Vettel has already more than proven his point. Yet today, Benson sees Hamilton as ‘the best driver of his generation’. Thats more than a little biased imo.

  25. Bill, 2 November 2012 15:43

    In the meantime, for Vettel he uses a lot of different parameters. Yes he can win from pole, but can he win from behind. When he checks that, its yes he can win from behind, but can he overtake without strategy? When Vettels checks that, its: so he can overtake, but can he really learn from mistakes, and not crash into people? When Vettel shows he can learn that, its: yes he can learn, but can he beat an equal teammate? While he kind of makes mince of qualifying specialist Webber on saturday, and shows he can beat rivals in better cars on sunday. It seems its never enough. And, considering Hamiltons career path (the greatest ever driver ever, according to Jacky Stewart), its just not very fair. “Can he win without Newey?” while nobody says about Hamilton:”can he win without Paddy Lowe?”

    The only stat Vettel hasnt really convinced in, is the following I found on another forum:

  26. Bill, 2 November 2012 15:47

    Lowest grid position that WDC winning drivers (and G. Villeneuve and Moss) have won from:

    Vettel – 3rd, Malaysian GP ’10 and Singapore GP ’12
    Hunt – 3rd, Dutch GP ’75
    Ascari – 3rd, Italian GP ’51
    Hamilton – 4th, Hungarian GP ’09 and British GP ’08

    Hakkinen – 5th, European GP ’97
    A. Senna – 5th, US GP ’90
    G. Hill – 6th, Spanish GP ’68

    Button – 7th, Canadian GP ’11
    E. Fittipaldi – 7th, Spanish GP ’73 and British GP ’75
    G. Villeneuve – 7th, Spanish GP ’81
    Fangio – 7th, ACF GP ’51
    Moss – 7th, Argentine GP ’58
    J. Brabham – 7th, Canadian GP ’67
    Rindt – 8th, Monaco GP ’70
    K. Rosberg – 8th, Swiss GP ’82
    N. Piquet – 8th, Canadian GP ’91

    Surtees – 9th, Italian GP ’67
    Hulme – 10th, Argentine GP ’74
    Lauda – 10th, Dutch GP ’85

    Scheckter – 11th, Argentine GP ’77
    Alonso – 11th, European GP ’12 (or 15th, Singapore GP, ’08… buuuuuut)
    Mansell – 12th, Hungarian GP ’89
    Clark – 12th, Belgian GP ’62

    Prost – 13th, Mexican GP ’90
    A. Jones – 14th, Austrian GP, ’77

    Stewart – 16th, South African GP ’73
    M. Shumacher – 16th, Belgian GP ’95

    Raikkonen – 17th, Japanese GP ’05

    But, as you see, we can eternally dig up stats like these. At one point one has to reach consensus, and that no matter one dimensional his stats are, 36 poles and 3 consecutive championships (racing a great like Alonso, and ‘the best driver of his generation, Hamilton), is in line with most very, very, very good drivers like Clark and Stewart. Anyway, I sure hope you and others will eventually be convinced.

  27. Andrew Scoley, 2 November 2012 17:09

    Interesting list Bill and you’ve qualified it by confining it to World Champions and the two best non World Champions (or, frankly, probably the two best but let’s not go there in this discussion!) which of course leaves out John Watson’s run from 23rd at Long Beach in 83. Very much a tyre related win, but also Keke took himself and Tambay out from the front.

    What the list doesn’t show is who won from the furthest back during the race. There are probably many examples but three that come to mind are two wins and one should’ve been a win but became third: Prost, South Africa 1982, Jenson in Canada in ’11 and Clark at Monza in ’67. To be fair, Alain only dropped to 7th, a lap down and in the space of 27 laps was back in the lead. Both Jimmy and Jenson were at the very back I believe, but not only was Clark at the back he was a lap behind. There really aren’t many comeback drives to match Monza ’67. (Ok Nuvolari in ’35 and Fangio in ’57 are in the mix. I could go on!).

    Nonetheless, it would probably be fair to say that the further back the winner comes from, the more likely there is a specific reason why they’ve started so far back or why the car suddenly appears to be a world beater on race day.

    As far as Seb goes, I’m not particularly a fan, but he’s right up there with the best. What I don’t want to happen, with Sebastien or any other driver, is to have them winning 90 bloody Grand Prix because we’ve been there and I don’t want a repeat!!

  28. JCR, 2 November 2012 17:17

    Jim Clark & Jackie Stewart were not just merely “very, very, very good” drivers they were Great drivers and in my opinion Jim was the greatest there has ever been! The “bio” written by Benson on the BBC page does not in actual fact do Jim justice or give real information about what made him great.

    The only reference worth note was that of his amazing qualifying lap at the 1967 Nurburgring GP. For me one of Jim’s greatest drives was the 1966 Dutch GP where in a 2 litre car he took on the two 3 litre Brabham’s.

    To place Alonso in the same bracket as Clark & Stewart; do me a favour. Neither would have reacted the way Alonso has in the various situations that question his integrity and ability. I am afraid there is compelling circumstantial evidence that supports the theory that Mr Alonso knew far more about both “Spygate” and “Crashgate” than some would have us believe.

    Also continual reference to statistics are an irrelevance and better suited to Politicians. If anyone needs to use stats to quantify the talent and ability of a race driver then they are maybe watching the wrong sport.

    There was a time when a true enthusiast could tell who was good, and who was great, by just watching from the track side enclosures.

  29. Paul Fearnley, 2 November 2012 18:11

    Don’t get me wrong, I am partial to a stat or 99.94:

    Stewart had won eight GPs before he won from pole: France, 1969.

  30. Bill, 2 November 2012 18:45

    Thanks Andrew but it wasnt my list, I just found it in another forum in a big discussion who is an F1 great and who isnt.

    Quite frankly I think its very hard to say who is and who isnt, but multiple champions go a long way.

    If you ask me, the number one driver ever was Jim Clark, not just for his stats, but also the tracks and safety measures he had to face those days. And then Gilles Villeneuve and Schumacher. Gilles for skill, talent, fearless and Schumacher for upping the game immensely, be it fitness, intelligence, stamina and hard, hard work. Very hard to choose from the rest. Senna was awesome, as was Prost. I saw Stewart race and that, too, was absolute top. Currently Alonso and Vettel bring a package, be it consistency, getting team around them, hardly ever making mistakes, and blindingly quick over one lap.

    The flip side is they never have to worry about setup, have a smalll army of engineers do endless computer simulations, drive bullit proof cars on tracks a far, far cry from those giant challenges of the past: banked Monza, old Spa, the ring, Rouen, etc.

  31. Tim Whalen, 2 November 2012 23:10

    I hope Vettel wins the third title! I love an underdog success story!

  32. Alex Milligan, 3 November 2012 07:28

    Your not employed by Mr Vettel are you Bill… and PR perhaps??!!!!!

  33. Bill, 3 November 2012 13:29

    Lol, I wish! As you can see, its a very easy job. ;)

  34. chris b, 3 November 2012 15:37

    Paul, i think as the consensus suggests no-one has ever come close to Jimmy, i have a lot of the 1967 Italian GP on dvd – ok best car – engine and Graham’s terrible luck but wow,

    the rainmaster thing was something i wanted to comment on, we know how incredible Senna was in Portugal and Donnington – Gilles at Montreal etc but up there was a forgotten GP at Spa – the old incredible scary place in 1965 when Jimmy drove off in the distance, i would love to see the whole tape of this GP but when we talk of great wet-weather races this one is amongst the greatest

  35. dave cubbedge, 3 November 2012 17:34

    I don’t think Vettel’s 2012 is an underdog story at all. Or 2010 either.

  36. jpl, 3 November 2012 20:18

    As Vettel will start from the back tomorrow, maybe we’ll have some answers to Paul Fearnley questions.

  37. Michael Attard, 3 November 2012 21:28

    Personally I think it is sad that we live in an age where F1 fans cannot appreciate the great qualities of a driver like Vettel. His type of natural ability does not come along very often and why people feel the need to try and excuse away his talent or put an asterisk beside his achievements is beyond me. Giorgio Ascanelli who worked with Senna, Schumacher and Vettel rates Sebastian as high as Senna and both better than Schumacher. I’ll take his opinion over any journalist or arm chair racer thank you very much. Vettel is as good as they come and I am happy to witness every lap this kid turns since there is no doubt in my mind that he is without question the best driver in F1 today.

  38. David H, 3 November 2012 22:25

    Thank you Paul. Thought a well-balanced article on what’s bound to be an impassioned topic amongst fans.

    Am certainly not a fan of FA the person but I’ve often wondered through the season who else would have done what he has with the car he’s been given.

  39. Will, 4 November 2012 00:06

    I do agree with some of the comments here – WHY are there question marks over Vettel? Journalists should get off his case. Sure, he’s mostly had the best car, but equally he’s not had the luxury of a team mate contractually obliged to lay down for him. He’s also had alot of high quality competition, too. And then there’s this nonsense about him not being able to overtake – well, thats not true, either. If, perchance, Vettel were British, would there be so much critical comment? I think not – they’d be hysteria. The only question marks are over those with the question marks…..

  40. Paul Fearnley, 4 November 2012 07:49

    Starting from the pit lane in Abu Dhabi…

    Right, here we go. Greatness – in all respects – beckons.

  41. Bill, 4 November 2012 14:53

    P24 to P3, 4 seconds behind the leader. Epic enough? :)

    Awesome pass on Button. Perez and some others should replay that one a few times.

  42. Rich Ambroson, 4 November 2012 15:23

    As impressive (again) as today’s (not the first impressive drive from Vettel) was, I’m sure there will still be doubters, for some reason.

    Still, it’s nice to see not only Vettel, but Bill here somewhat “vindicated”. Great drive by the Monty Python fan (I wonder if he also enjoys Fawlty Towers?). Just don’t mention the war….

  43. Paul Fearnley, 4 November 2012 16:04

    Vettel at Abu Dhabi…

    Great car, a few bits of luck – handy Safety Car periods and that silly near-miss with Ricciardo – and an excellent reactive strategy, plus the hotheadedness of others, some flat-out motoring on Sebastian’s part and his picking of the right moment and appropriate rival – not Maldonado, not Massa, but Button – to go for that outside move.

    Humble pie defrosted and in the oven. Will happily eat several pieces of it when/if he beats the mighty Alonso to the 2012 world title.

  44. Nobby, 4 November 2012 18:57

    Vettel is a boy! He’s not earned the right to be a 3 times world champion…Alonso has. He’s had it too easy….best car perfectly tailored to him.

    He demonstates his immaturity regularly. The habitual jabbing of his index figure when he gets pole/wins a race, the arrogant smirk he has difficulty keeping from his face when he’s explaining his latest success, his need to pour champagne over the head of the person doing the podium interviews…….all very immature.

    And I fear a third world title in 3 years will make him more arrogant and more unbearable.

    He needs to earn his dues, to endure more testing times, some more character building in the way Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen have. He’s simply had it too easy to be classed anywhere near the ‘great’ category.

  45. dave cubbedge, 4 November 2012 22:41

    I think Abu Dhabi 2012 might change the opinion of a few….incredible race as far as current GPs go.

  46. Rich Ambroson, 5 November 2012 02:04

    Nobby, I’ll take the occasional finger pointing and such, over lying to the stewards to get a competitor disqualified (and then later lying about why one lied, and getting a longstanding team member fired).

  47. Rich Ambroson, 5 November 2012 02:05

    Oh my, should have read more.

    “paying his dues” in regards to Hamilton. When exactly did he (and not Ron Dennis) pay those dues?

  48. Bill, 5 November 2012 02:52

    Massa an F1 great? Hmmmm.

  49. ray r, 5 November 2012 14:47

    Mighty Alonso?

    Is this the same feller who ran from Hamilton at the end of 2007?

    Somehow, I doubt we’ll ever see Alonso in a future Prost/Senna or Senna/Prost-type pairing with Vettel.

  50. Ray T, 6 November 2012 16:38

    I can’t see the point of historical comparisons of F1 drivers.
    Senna and Prost had automatic cars.
    Vettel has DRS.
    Ascari, Senna and Clark combined could not do what Vettel did in Abu Dhabi because they didn’t have free passing buttons on their wheels.

    I think of Vettel as a Schumacher with ethics.

  51. Bill, 6 November 2012 18:07

    Clark drove a Lotus 49, a car so superior it was competative and winning arces for 4(!) seasons, designed to mate with a custom made engine, the DFV. At Monza 1967 it qualified nearly 2 seconds faster than the eventual race winner Honda RA300.

    It took a real great driver to do what Jimmy did that race, but still his car wasnt exactly on DRS/No DRS differences like Vettel yesterday.

  52. Ray T, 6 November 2012 19:38

    But Clark’s 49 had rock hard tyres, awful brakes, fragile design, a clutch, a gear lever, etc. The skills of mechanical management, tyre management, fuel management, shifting, braking, etc. are all gone.

    Now, you blast the car at 100% at all times, brakes never wear, shifting is pretty close to automatic, and instead of drafting or out-braking, you just push a button and blow by the guy in front. Every other aspect of planning and race strategy is removed from the driver, in the hands of a trailer full of engineers with massive amounts of real-time data.

    Thus, historical comparisons of F1 are pointless.

  53. chris b, 6 November 2012 19:43

    reading through the messages here, i kept wondering why Seb does get criticized so often, he drove a very good race, sometimes fortune smiles on you, Jimmy 1964 Belgium for instance – other times it doesn’t Monza 67, and Abu D smiled on Seb, although wasn’t impressed with his behavior with DC – ce la vie, he took full advantage of his situation,

    Bill and JCR, i see we agree on Jimmy far ahead of all others, not going to discuss that but Monza 67, the 49 was one awesome piece of kit, that brought F1 to a new level of professionalism but was it fragile! the other reason I value Jimmy so highly was his mechanical sympathy and his ability to nurse something home, aka Silverstone 1965

  54. Bill, 6 November 2012 23:07

    Ray T: I agree on everything you said, but they dont have anything to do with your first argument; that he couldnt push to have a car advantage. The Lotus 49 was miles ahead of anything else.

    Currently the RB8 with DRS is only a tad faster than a MP4-26 without DRS, and hence it took 6 laps for Vettel to pass Button in a very daring move he did not have to do. He couldv stayed put in 4th, a la Hamilton behind him at Melbourne 2012. Not Vettel. He got lucky with that SC but the move was all him.

  55. dave cubbedge, 7 November 2012 00:22

    Jimmy Clark and mechanical sympathy – just find the picture of him winning at the Glen in ’67 and notice the rear wheel steering….. The right rear upper suspension link had broken! He drove it like that for the last two laps, slowing for left handers to compensate. Simply adapted to the new situation.

  56. Bill, 7 November 2012 19:41

    I think weve debated this article enough, and lots of people including the author have said perhaps there arent so many question marks after all. Great debate, on both ends.

    Had to post this comment from somebody on another forum as my last word. Made me chuckle. Its a reaction on an article from Autosport:

    “Hamilton gets a resounding pole and easily controls a race from the front prior until a technical failure hits. What a drive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Vettel gets a resounding pole and controls the race from the front until a technical failure hits. What a car developer Newey is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Vettel ends up having to start the race from the back of the grid. This isn’t bad luck for him. It’s instead good for the sport!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Hamilton ends up at the back of the grid in Spain for indentical reasons and after taking a commanding pole in an ‘erm’ dominant car? How unjust and unlucky after such a great performance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Damn the FIA and stewards!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


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