x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The Red Bull Racing driver's run of victories may not ending the drivers' title as a contest, but that does not mean there has not been entertainment to enjoy in recent F1 races.

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel leads the pack at the start of the Korean Grand Prix. Prakash Singh / AFP
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel leads the pack at the start of the Korean Grand Prix. Prakash Singh / AFP

Lewis Hamilton was not a happy man after getting out of his Mercedes-GP car last Sunday afternoon in Mokpo, South Korea.

Finishing in fifth place after a frustrating race, due to high tyre- wear problems, was not what the 2008 world champion had in mind.

Thus, the Briton was in a bad mood when he spoke about Sebastian Vettel’s fourth victory in succession, which has left the German in a position to win his fourth world title tomorrow – with four races in the season still to go.

Hamilton, who has had to suffer through Vettel’s dominance, compared it disparagingly to Michael Schumacher’s run of five drivers’ titles in a row with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004.

“I feel for the fans, because I remember watching when Michael Schumacher was winning,” he said.

“I remember watching the start, going to sleep, then waking up when it ended, because I already knew what would happen.

“I am pretty sure a lot of people were doing that today. At least in my family there were.”

Indeed, if F1 races are judged purely on the fight for first, then the last four races have been a nap-inducing bore.

Vettel led at the end of the first lap on each occasion in Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Korea, and was only headed during the pit stops as he and his Red Bull car have proven unbeatable since the end of the summer break.

But there are 22 cars in a race, not just one. Just because one participant is disappearing down the road into the distance does not mean that the rest cannot entertain.

The race in Korea was easily the best of the three held there since it was put on the calendar in 2010, with lots of overtaking, collisions and two safety-car periods.

Yes, it was not a thriller at the front, but Romain Grosjean almost collided with Lotus teammate Kimi Raikkonen as they fought over second place, while Nico Hulkenberg put in a great display of display of defensive driving to hold off Hamilton and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in his much slower Sauber.

It was the same story in Singapore before Korea, where a variety of tyre strategies played out in the latter half of the race, with Alonso, Raikkonen and Jenson Button being hunted down by faster rivals in the closing stages, while Mark Webber, Vettel’s Red Bull teammates, passed an array of cars before his engine blew on the final lap.

Yet if you cannot get beyond the fact that Vettel is charging around unchallenged, then the season is a loss.

But when Hamilton compare Vettel’s streak to the Schumacher era, it was a surprise – that period represents a time of genuine tedium in F1. Some of those seasons were, from a competitive point of view, awful.

In 2001, the German won the title with four races to spare, and it was the same in 2004 after he won 11 of the first 12 races.

But 2002 was the one that really stands out as a season of mind-numbing dominance.

Schumacher finished on the podium in all 17 races, winning 11, finishing second five times, and third once.

He only finished behind a non-Ferrari car on two occasions all season, and one of those was after he damaged his front wing on the first lap.

The Ferrari F2002 chassis was so good that the team enjoyed eight one-two finishes that season, with the last five races finishing with either Schumacher ahead of teammate Rubens Barrichello, or vice versa.

There was not even good racing in the midfield to save the entertainment factor.

Williams and McLaren were too slow for Ferrari that season, but were too good for everyone else, and that was the story all the way down the grid, where passing often was difficult.

The current spectacle is helped immensely by the introduction of the drag-reduction system and kinetic-energy recovery devices that have made overtaking since 2011 a more realistic possibility.

True, this season’s championship fight could end tomorrow, or more realistically in India in two weeks’ time, but this year has been nowhere near as tedious as 2002.

Vettel is dominant, but it was not always like this.

Red Bull struggled with tyre degradation in the first half of the season, and Vettel was not a factor in a number of races – in Spain he was 38 seconds behind race winner Alonso as he finished in a distant fourth.

But after Pirelli reverted to 2012-design tyres after the series of blowouts at the British Grand Prix in June, their Achilles heel has lessened and Vettel and Red Bull have been able to exploit their raw pace advantage in both qualifying and the race.

Vettel, to his credit, accumulated points on the days when he could not win, then capitalised when he had a chance to finish first, as any good champion will do.

Since beating Vettel in Spain, Alonso has not finished ahead of the German in a race that they have both finished as Ferrari’s speed has diminished.

An uncomfortable element of the recent races has been the booing of Vettel on the podium, and apparently for having the audacity to win races in comfortable fashion.

If boredom with Vettel’s success is at the root of the jeers, then clearly, those fans were not watching the Schumacher era.

The real question is, are the fans hitting out at the wrong party?

Rather than assailing Vettel, their ire might be better directed at Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus, who all have failed to offer a consistent challenge to the Red Bull man over the season’s first 14 races.

They are still adding to the show at the moment, with enjoyable fights for the second two podium positions and the top 10 points scoring places, but that is not what people want to see.

At minimum, they want to see Vettel pushed while earning his victories, and beaten on occasion.

It is not the German’s fault that the other teams cannot compete with him at present.

Fans who have grown tired of the same storyline can only hope that his rivals teams raise their games considerably for 2014.

After all, an entertaining fight for second place will only hold somebody’s attention for so long.