The Dismissal of Sebastian Vettel: Justice or Injustice?

On May 12th, 2020, Scuderia Ferrari announced that German driver Sebastian Vettel’s contract would not be renewed. The decision shocked the press and supporters, as Vettel’s performance in recent years has been spotlighted by two main characteristics: his disputes for the title in 2017 and 2018, and his constant accidents. In 2019, the German ended behind his teammate, Monegasque Charles Leclerc, on final results, with Leclerc being on his second year of career and first with the Maranello-based team.

During the 2018 season, some fans considered that a retirement of the German driver would be more indicated to him. Others used Vettel’s glorious past as a four-time-champion to justify his permanence in Formula One. So, after all, was Ferrari’s decision fair or unfair? To answer this question, let’s make a retrospect of Sebastian Vettel’s career and rate if his performance was worthy of Ferrari’s investments.

 

1- The beginning: a young talent enters Formula One

 

Sebastian Vettel debuted in Formula One at 2007 United States Grand Prix for Sauber, replacing Polish driver Robert Kubica, who had suffered a serious accident on the previous round, in Canada. Vettel finished eighth, the last place of the scoring zone at the time, scoring one point. In the same year, he was hired by Toro Rosso to continue the season from Hungarian Grand Prix. His second and last scoring was a fourth-place at the Chinese Grand Prix. He finished the championship at 14th place, with six points.

As of 2008, Vettel’s star started to shine more. Scoring in nine races, the German had a triumphant victory at Italian Grand Prix, being the first time a Toro Rosso driver won a race. At this same round, he broke two records: “youngest Grand Prix pole position winner” and “youngest driver to score a double” (pole position and race win). He finished 2008 in eighth place, with 35 points.

 

Sebastian Vettel’s first victory, at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. (Photo: MAXF1.net) [1]

 

2- Joining Red Bull: the apex and the fall

 

In 2009, Vettel was hired by Red Bull Racing team. He broke more two records: youngest driver to score a hat-trick” (pole position, race win and fastest lap), and “youngest World Drivers’ Championship runner-up”. With four wins, eight podiums, and four more scores, he got 84 points, 11 lesser than champion Jenson Button, of Brawn. His results were so impressive that he turned into Red Bull’s bet to dispute the title.

Racing alongside Australian driver Mark Webber, his teammate since his first year with the Austrian team, Sebastian Vettel became champion for four consecutive years. In 2010, with five wins, 10 podiums and five more scores, he got 256 points and guaranteed the first title of a Red Bull driver. In 2011, he conquered 392 points, an outcome of 11 wins, 17 podiums, and one more score. The following year, he had 281 points, five wins, 10 podiums, and seven more scores. His last title was conquered in 2013, with 13 wins, 16 podiums, and two more scores. Vettel’s four titles meant two things for Red Bull: the engineering department has succeeded in their turbo engine development and the team had one of the most talented drivers in the history of the sport.

 

Sebastian Vettel’s win at the 2013 German Grand Prix. (Photo: Motor Authority) [2]

 

In his four titles’ years, Vettel broke nine records he keeps until nowadays. In 2010 he broke the one of “youngest Formula One World Drivers’ champion”, at the age of 23. In 2011, he broke the ones of “most podium finishes in a season” (17 at all), “most pole positions in a season” (15 at all), “most laps led in a season” (739 at all), “most wins from pole position in a season” (totalizing nine) and “youngest driver to score a grand slam” (pole position, win, fastest lap and led every lap). In 2013, he broke the records of “most consecutive wins” (nine at all), “most consecutive grand slams” (two at all), and “most wins in a season” (totalizing 13). Vettel also got three more records, “youngest driver to led at least one lap”, “youngest driver to score a podium” and “youngest Grand Prix winner”, but these were surpassed some years later by Max Verstappen. With these achievements, Vettel was considered the biggest winner of the Turbo Era in Formula One.

 

With Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel won four championships and got nine records he keeps until nowadays. (Photo: Sports Mole) [3]

 

But in 2014, the situation changed drastically. With Mark Webber’s exit, the team chose also Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo to replace him as Vettel’s teammate. If before the German’s mastery was clear, he passed to be left behind by the team in favor of the new teammate. Vettel’s car in 2014 had little power to reach previous years’ results. By contrast, Ricciardo’s car enjoyed perfect conditions, allowed him to even get his first win, at Canadian Grand Prix. Getting only four podiums and 12 more scores, Vettel finished the year in fifth place of championship, with 167 points. Ricciardo finished third, with 238 points. In the same year Red Bull decided to prefer a new driver, the team lost leadership in Formula One, and Lewis Hamilton’s title (the second of his career) started Mercedes mastery, which remains until nowadays.

 

Red Bull’s preference for Daniel Ricciardo not only harmed Sebastian Vettel’s 2014 season, as it allowed Mercedes to be the new dominant team. (Photo: Marca) [4]

 

3- Going to Ferrari: a good deal?

 

Seeing Vettel’s deception with Red Bull, Ferrari made him a proposal to join the Italian team replacing Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. The Maranello-based team was since 2007 without winning the drivers championship and since 2008 without winning the constructors championship. Unhappy with Alonso’s failure, Ferrari’s officers bet on the young four-time-champion to bring back the team’s times of glory.

Vettel’s contract with Red Bull would end at the end of 2015, but Ferrari paid his severance to have him in its team. Racing alongside Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen, the least champion with the Italian team, the German came back to drivers’ top-3. Conquering three wins, 13 podiums, and more four scores, he finished the year at third place in the ranking, with 278 points, 44 lesser than runner-up Nico Rosberg and 103 lesser than champion Lewis Hamilton (both of Mercedes). Though without getting another title, his position in 2015 was a relief to Vettel, as he was in a more competitive car, being the team’s priority, and was closer to compete for the champion trophy.

 

With Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel retrieved chances to fight for the title. (Photo: O Globo) [5]

 

But in 2016, destiny brought another big rival: Max Verstappen. The Dutch driver had debuted by Toro Rosso in 2015 and the following year was promoted to Red Bull replacing Russian driver Daniil Kvyat (fired because of his weak performance and his constant accidents, even harming Vettel, as at Russian Grand Prix). Verstappen has the same characteristics as the German driver: he was young, fearless, audacious, brave, and had no fear of taking risks. Responsible for breaking three records that belonged to Vettel, the Dutch driver held intense disputes with Ferrari’s driver. The most emblematic were the disputes for the Mexican Grand Prix podium and for the Brazilian Grand Prix fifth place (which Verstappen ended third). The young driver nearly surpassed Vettel in the championship, ending only eight points behind the German, who finished the year at fourth place in the ranking, with 212 points.

In 2017, Vettel was highlighted again, starting the championship with a win at Australian Grand Prix. The dispute for the title with Hamilton kept balanced for 13 races, with the German having a certain advantage. However, at Singapore Grand Prix, Ferrari’s craving for victory ended harming its main driver. Starting from pole position, alongside Max Verstappen, Vettel and Räikkönen squeezed the Dutch driver, which caused a triple crash. The three drivers had to retire from the race and victory ended with Hamilton. With the British driver leadership, Vettel needed to win Mexican Grand Prix and cross his fingers to Hamilton finishing at least ninth to became champion. However, one more dispute with Verstappen frustrated the German’s plans. The Dutch driver took him the leadership and both had a touch. While Verstappen kept it normally, Vettel ended shocking against Hamilton and both went to the last places. Ferrari’s driver finished the round in fourth place, while the English driver crossed the finish line in ninth place, guaranteeing that year’s title. Winning for the last time at Brazilian Grand Prix, Vettel ended 2017 as runner-up, with 317 points an outcome of five wins, 12 podiums, and five more scores.

 

Accident at the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix involving Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, and Max Verstappen. (Photo: Busy.org) [6]

 

The year 2018 was similar to the previous one. Vettel started the championship with two consecutive wins (in Australia and Bahrein). However, as of the Chinese Grand Prix, in which he had a touch with Verstappen that dragged him to the eighth place, his luck started to change. In that year, Vettel involved himself in a series of accidents that cost him precious points to dispute the title. At French Grand Prix, he collided with Finnish Valtteri Bottas, while at German Grand Prix, though the team facilitated his job, ordering to teammate Räikkönen to give him the lead, he crashed into the wall and retired from the race. At the Japanese Grand Prix, he risked his luck in a fight against Verstappen that made him leave the track momentarily, ending the race in sixth place. At all, Vettel had five wins, 12 podiums, and eight more scores, consolidating himself as runner-up once more, with 320 points.

In 2019, Kimi Räikkönen was replaced by  Charles Leclerc. Although many journalists and supporters speculated that the new driver would bring a hazard to Vettel, old experts in Ferrari knew that the team would prioritize the German and would make the Monegasque his squire (as they did to Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa in the past). At the first race of the year, in Australia, thought Leclerc’s car having a better output, Ferrari did not allow him to overtake Vettel (the same happened two rounds later, in China). For this reason, Leclerc was nicknamed “Cinderella”. However, Vettel did not justify his team’s predilection for him in 2019: he got only one win, Singapore, that even lent him the controversial accusation of being helped by Ferrari (that changes his tires before Leclerc’s), besides eight podiums and seven more scores. The main mark of Vettel in 2019 was his accidents, notably the crash with Hamilton at Canadian Grand Prix, the purposeful collision with Verstappen at British Grand Prix, with Lance Stroll at Italian Grand Prix, and with Leclerc at Brazilian Grand Prix. In the second and third cases, Vettel only stayed in the last positions, including receiving penalties, while in the other he caused a ferrarist double-retirement that alarmed the team. Finishing the year in fifth place, with 240 points, Vettel ended one position and 24 points behind his teammate.

 

4- From hero to zero: what was Sebastian Vettel’s mistake?

 

Conquering a title in Formula One is not an easy job. The specialists are practically unanimous in saying that the key to the success in motorsport is the sum of the driver’s talent with the car’s good performance. There is no point in having a potent car if the driver has no stamina to bring it to the title (Valtteri Bottas is an example), as well as there is no point in the driver being talented if the car’s performance does not match (Max Verstappen is an example). Vettel’s achievements (records, wins, and titles) prove his talent. Ferrari and Red Bull are considered top teams (though recently the Austrian team is quite different from it was in at the time the German was its main driver). So how to explain such a fall in such a short time?

The answer is simple: self-control. This is an important ingredient in the recipe for a champion. A big example of how it works is the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton disputed the title with Vettel and had started from pole position. However, a full of range Max Verstappen fought for the win. Hamilton preferred to not showing too much resistance, as he preferred to guarantee a second-place, keep a constant series of scoring, and steady the title than disputing the win and risk an accident, giving chances to his rival to surpass him. Vettel does not think the same way. The German is indeed impulsive and risks until the last second, causing unnecessary accidents and losing significant points. When this dispute happens with another impulsive driver, like Verstappen, the damage is even bigger. Who knows the 2017 championship would have ended differently if Vettel and Räikkönen had not framed that squeeze for Verstappen to try to scare him?

 

Sebastian Vettel’s crash at the 2018 German Grand Prix. Silly mistakes cost him the chance of winning three more titles. (Photo: Goodwood) [7]

 

A strategy is also important to win a game. Formula One is a collective sport that depends on the interaction between the driver and his team (this one divided into its many departments and staff, as engineers, mechanics, strategists, among others). Audacity and courage are indeed relevant factors to a successful career, but even in extreme situations, as a dispute for positions, it is necessary to think very well before acting. A good strategy would be reuniting the team before the races to discuss how to proceed in hypothetical situations and put in practice what was discussed before.

The main mistake of Sebastian Vettel was letting his emotions to take control of his reason. Accidents like those of the 2019 British and Brazilian Grand Prix were clearly an outcome of the driver’s rage for being overtaken by his rivals (respectively Verstappen and Leclerc). Vettel should follow the suit of Hamilton’s prudence if he wants to win titles again.

 

5- Conclusion

 

Ferrari realized that it is not worthy to spend its investments in a driver who, though talented, always getting into trouble. It is likely that Charles Leclerc became the new bet of the team, that will hire another driver to be his squire (sources speculate about the name of Carlos Sainz Jr.). Sebastian Vettel , in turn, has two possible ways: or retirement, or a weaker team (though Toto Wolff had already shown some interest in putting him in Mercedes, it is not known if Vettel would accept to be Lewis Hamilton’s teammate). The four-time-champion waiver was an outcome of his impulsivity, that harmed him more than helped him. However, it would be unfair to ignore Vettel’s achievements, as he left his legacy in Formula One as a bold and fearless driver who translated his courage in four titles. The most important lesson that he leaves for the new talents in the sport is that it worths thinking before acting more than risking everything, as you can lose the last chance to shine.

 

Sources

 

 

Photos

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