Why Sebastian Vettel is an overrated driver
Traduzione di Giacomo Pazzi – articolo originale qui
Sebastian Vettel is considered to be an overrated driver because the average italian knows about Formula 1 as much as I do about women. Basically nothing, which is still as much as the average italian does, about women.
So no. Sebastian Vettel is not an overrated driver, actually, it’s the contrary. And I’ll explain even why, taking apart every catchphrase based on this distorted reality that has been going on for too long.
Catchphrase 1: “Vettel won 4 WDCs only because he had the fastest car”
Since this is the most used catchphrase on Vettel, we will need some time to take it apart properly. So get ready for an extremely long, hopefully not boring, and full of numbers analysis. Because if numbers are unquestionable when they say that Hamilton is “the best qualifier ever” this is the way it must stay.
During the 4 WDC years at Red Bull Vettel clearly had an extremely better car compared to other teams only in two occasions, in 2011 and in 2013. While in 2010 and 2012 Red Bull was surely one of the best cars, in many cases even the best, but it wasn’t exactly dominant, also because of big reliability issues.
Year 2011 and 2013: some aspects of a domination that became destruction of competition
In 2011 Sebastian Vettel got 15 pole positions and 18 front rows out of 19 races, the only time he didn’t start at the front he was third. Clearly not the best on a single lap. But still if you actually have a car that is much faster than the others’, either you get pole or your teammate does. But from 2010 to 2013 Webber got 12 poles against Vettel’s 40, which is 23% of all pole positions scored by Red Bull in that period.
If we want to confront qualifying results of two other drivers who also drove a dominant car, we can take the years 2014-2016 of Mercedes domination with Hamilton and Rosberg. Rosberg got 26 poles against Hamilton’s 30, which is 46% of the total. As you can see, it’s not that easy to beat your teammate in qualifying.
One might say that Webber wasn’t at the same level as Rosberg was as a teammate, and that is probably true. But Webber wasn’t the newest guy, and he was someone who managed to get 5th on a Minardi on his first race ever and who managed to start on the front row on a Jaguar, so he wasn’t so bad on qualifying after all.
Then, if Rosberg was so strong, nobody would’ve tried to justify a conspiracy from the same Mercedes for his 2016 win against Hamilton. Yet we know these people exist and are amongst us, in our pubs, offices, right in front of this monitor, someone still driving a Mercedes in F1. And even without plots, numbers have appointed Lewis Hamilton as the best qualifier in history. So if you really are the best qualifier ever, no matter who is your teammate, you should always get the vast majority of poles, provided you have the car for it. The car was there, poles too, but not the vast majority, and not because Lewis was not good enough, but because to get on pole, to do it very often, is not that easy, as some would want us to believe about the ones that Vettel got on a Red Bull.
Let’s get back to Vettel and his 2013. That season Sebastian won 13 races, a huge record, on par with Michael Schumacher. Oh and the 15 pole positions from 2011 were a record too, by the way.
The most impressive thing of that season though are the 9 consecutive wins at the end of the season, from the Belgian to the Brazilian GP. Most of all because Vettel before starting that winning streak was still first on the table with 38 advantage points on Raikkonen. Also, he had already won the title in India with 3 laces still remaining, going there with 90 advantage points out of 100 available, so the title was actually won at the race before at Suzuka. But even when he was sure to win the WDC, he kept winning, despite the 4 titles that would just satiate anyone.
But there seems to be a conspiracy here too, as it seems that in 2013 Red Bull was so fast that the car was believed to be driven on its own. Vettel only had to replace the helmet of the prop driver. His obsession to change the livery of his helmet was born so that he would have something to talk about with the press, since he didn’t even take part in the race. Not sure how many followers this theory may have, but they very well may be as many as the amount of podiums Nico Hulkenberg has ever got in F1.
Years 2010 and 2012: Sebastian vs Fernando
2010 is the year that all Ferrari fans remember for the WDC title lost by Alonso in the last race at Abu Dhabi. In that ill-fated race for the Prancing Horse, 4 drivers had the chance to win the title: Alonso, Webber, Vettel and Hamilton. A season that wasn’t so certain until the end, with drivers from three different teams contending the title. Surely something that doesn’t happen when there’s a car that is clearly and constantly better than the others, we’ve already seen how WDCs end if you give Seb a car like that… Some other statistics about 2010, just to convince you even more. Wins: Vettel 5, Alonso 5, Webber 4, Hamilton 3, Button 2. Podiums: Vettel 10, Alonso 10, Webber 10, Hamilton 9, Button 7, Massa 5.
With these statistics on the field, and arriving in Abu Dhabi as third on the table, Sebastian Vettel managed to win his first WDC, recovering more than the 15 points that divided him from Alonso only in the last race, all of this while keeping in mind that he had one more DNF in the season compared to his other rivals.
Just like in 2010 Vettel and Alonso battled each other for the title until the last race, with Hamilton out of the game despite having a very competitive, but also very unreliable McLaren. Also here it’s interesting to see how wins were divided between the drivers: Vettel 5, Hamilton 4, Alonso 3, Button 3, Webber 2, Rosberg 1, Raikkonen 1, Maldonado 1. That’s right, Pastor Maldonado won a race in 2012, the fifth of the seven races won by seven different drivers, this also sounds like it would be difficult to happen if there really were a clearly faster car than the others. But it might be me, maybe it happened because Vettel is really bad or maybe because he just didn’t want to kill off the championship, we will find out when and if he will publish his autobiography.
The decisive race was in Brazil, Vettel was in front of Alonso by 13 points, which were still less than the amount he had managed to recover in 2010. But in the first lap, things got complicated for Sebastian. Bruno Senna, who was trying to overtake Paul Di Resta, ended up wide while braking and hits Vettel, who was cautiously defending his position from Di Resta. Sebastian ended up doing a 180 and in last position, with his side damaged.
If Vettel were to score zero points, Alonso would only need a podium to be champion, but Vettel didn’t give up and started recovering position after position until finally reaching 6th, which, with Alonso being 2nd, was still enough for him to win the WDC for the third consecutive time.
Bonus: 2009, Vettel’s year of which nobody ever talks about
In 2009, the WDC was won by Jenson Button on a Brawn GP, thanks to his 6 wins in the first 7 races, and we all remember that. What few of us remember though, is that Vettel got 2nd in that championship, losing the chance to get the title only in the penultimate race, having to deal with 5 retirements out of 17 races against the only one from Button. Another thing, Brawn’s double diffuser was found out early, but the others had been desperately trying to copy it for half the season, so for the first half of the season Red Bull didn’t have this technical expedient that would allow for a huge advantage over Button.
But still, maybe Button was not that good, maybe he wasn’t the same Button who scored 672 points against Hamilton’s 657 on a McLaren from 2010 to 2012. Hamilton surely had to deal with bad luck on his retirements and other annoying technical difficulties, but Button wasn’t free of that either. Jenson doesn’t seem that bad now, does he?
Catchphrase 2: “In 2014 Ricciardo clearly beat Vettel”
We’re going to get this out of the way very quickly, since I’ve surely lost half of you between Seb’s numbers about his 4 titles, so the few survivors deserve a prize.
After 4 consecutive titles, is it that odd to have a performance decrease? No.
After 4 consecutive titles, is it that odd to have less hunger of winning, to take care of the car’s issues compared to a teammate at his debut on a top team? No.
Is it that odd to say that Daniel Ricciardo is just hard to beat as a teammate anyway? No.
Is it that odd to say that a comparison between two drivers based on the data from one year is wrong? No.
If you still aren’t convinced from the last points, worry not, feel free not to. But I have to tell you something, in 2015 Daniil Kvyat actually beat Daniel Ricciardo in Red Bull. So Vettel would be worse than Ricciardo who would be even worse than Daniil Kvyat.
Daniil Kvyat, the man who was dumped during the season from two different teams for two consecutive years.
Catchphrase 3: “Vettel won on a Toro Rosso in 2008 at Monza just because he had the best car on the wet”
So, no designer designs a car to only do well on wet conditions. Keep that in mind. He designs it to do well on dry conditions, maybe making sure it won’t do too bad on wet conditions, but only if there’s some time left, nobody has and nobody will ever do the opposite.
Obviously the Toro Rosso that weekend had a pretty decent setup to deal with wet conditions, just like all the other teams, since rain was forecasted for the whole weekend and it punctually came. Qualifying was on wet, everyone did it with a wet setup, nobody did qualifying on a dry setup, just because he was wishing for a sunshine to come out the day after, because rain was still forecasted. So no, the Toro Rosso wasn’t the only car on a wet setup that weekend.
Vettel gave it all to win the race and take pole on Saturday, on a car that actually had one year old engine. This little detail is often neglected. Another interesting fact: Vettel scored 35 out of Toro Rosso’s total 39 points that year, contributing to reaching 6th place in the constructor title, the best result in the short history of the Italian team.
But still, that Toro Rosso car might have been the best car they had ever made. If that were the case, though, Vettel should be acknowledged of the fact that he’s quite good at finding himself good cars to drive on. But, if Vettel really had this incredible ability/luck, how could you explain the fact that he was driving the SF16H in 2016? But maybe that car was competitive too and I was just a bit distracted while it happened, who knows?
Catchphrase 4: “This year Vettel is making too many mistakes under pressure”
This year Vettel objectively made only one bad mistake: turning into Hamilton in Baku. Can’t argue on that, it was a very bad mistake and a loss of clarity of thought that was too big to be justified and indeed I won’t justify that.
The other two mistakes were the Singapore start defensive move and the incident with Stroll at the end of the race in Malaysia. Allow me to say that those weren’t mistakes in which he was the only one to be blamed for.
Since those episodes have already been analysed many times, I’ll make it quick.
In Singapore, his defensive move on Verstappen was something anyone would’ve made, he probably wouldn’t have done that had he known Raikkonen was coming in like a train, impeding Verstappen to move away consequently. Vettel, though, couldn’t know that, Raikkonen was on his blind spot and many other drivers said that. Most of all, Ricciardo also said he actually didn’t know where Verstappen was in Suzuka, and looking at the start of the race, you can clearly see Verstappen was a lot closer to Ricciardo than Kimi was to Vettel in Singapore.
Should Vettel have started with a bit more caution? Yes. Do you win titles by starting to count the numbers 7 races to the end? Maybe, but only if you’re sure you’ve got the best car.
As for Stroll’s incident, I just want to show you these frames, then you decide what to make of it.
Ok, I’ll explain anyway so that I’m sure you’re getting the message. Stroll goes wide from the ideal line, internally delimited by the black line of marbles that are left from the race (check the arrow). It’s quite obvious if you look at the distance that separates them from Stroll’s front left tyre external border (green line). In the first frame, the distance to the marbles is minimal, whereas in the second, the marbles (they’re quite pallid but you can see them still) aren’t even on the framing next to the tyre. Stroll didn’t randomly go wide, let’s make it clear, he wanted to let Grosjean pass on the inside line, but doing this, he ended up on the external line where Vettel was travelling. You can see that clearly from this video.
Something is for sure though, no other top driver has ever made a mistake in the crucial moments of the championship.
Not even the ones from the past.
You can question a lot of things about Sebastian Vettel, his being emotional that makes him more Italian than German, his complaining about anything on the radio, his obsessive need to change helmet at every Grand Prix, but to underestimate his extraordinary and universal talent means underestimating Formula 1.
Because you can only say that he is a bad runner, but not a bad racer.