x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Champion Sebastian Vettel deserves all of our respect

Questions of the German's ability behind the wheel were answered at Yas Marina Circuit and the Brazilian Grand Prix, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Sebastian Vettel has shown relentless determination and unmovable belief. Ricardo Mazalan / AP Photo
Sebastian Vettel has shown relentless determination and unmovable belief. Ricardo Mazalan / AP Photo

The end result on Sunday evening was what had been predicted for much of the past two months. Yet the manner in which Sebastian Vettel secured his third successive world drivers' title in Brazil, and in doing so eclipsing Ayrton Senna's record as the youngest three-time world champion, provided a certain proof often demanded by his critics.

Christian Horner, the Red Bull Racing team principal, told reporters on Sunday evening that "the fastest way to become unpopular is to achieve repeated success" and Vettel certainly has his naysayers.

The 25 year old has regularly seen his talents questioned; his exceptional results attributed to the RB8's ingenious aerodynamic design rather than its operator's abilities.

When Fernando Alonso said in Korea last month that he was no longer racing only against Vettel but also Adrian Newey, Red Bull's chief technical officer, it was a none-too-subtle reminder that Newey has won titles at every team he has worked for.

It is he who should be feared, not Vettel. After all, of Vettel's 46 podium finishes, only four have been achieved when starting from further back than the first two rows of the grid.

It is both natural and understandable for Alonso to feel this way.

In a vastly inferior car, he has driven like a man possessed at times this season, placing his Ferrari on the podium when such a result should simply have not been possible.

He has achieved this through a combination of phenomenal driving, relentless determination and unmovable belief.

And yet Vettel showed in Sao Paulo, much as he did in Abu Dhabi three weeks earlier, that he too can boast such characteristics.

The German's performances at Yas Marina Circuit and Interlagos epitomised the drive and desire he has to become a legend of this most daring sport.

Those who said he is incapable of racing wheel to wheel and unable to safely overtake were made to look foolish first in the UAE capital and then again in Brazil.

At Yas Marina, Vettel was rightly dropped to the back of the grid, but showed immense ability to weave his way through the field - twice - and finish third.

The victory was out of his grasp, yet the result will have felt like a win.

Alonso, in finishing second, could have returned to the top of the championship standings, but Vettel produced one of the drives of his career to reduce the damage to his points lead. Undoubtedly, it was the most important result of the season in Vettel's quest to defend his title.

This week in Sao Paulo, the former Toro Rosso driver was forced to repeat the trick after a first lap shunt saw him facing the wrong direction while the rest of the field sped past him.

Within eight laps, once again, he had negotiated his way past 16 cars and climbed to sixth. Later, even after he was made to contend with a loss of communication that saw him pit at the wrong time, he still managed to hold on for the result he needed.

So did he simply get lucky? Did DRS make overtaking too easy? Is his car really that good? Or, maybe, is he, the three-time world champion, actually, you know, worthy of the title?

"If you look back, there was never people really, really successful in a really bad car," Vettel said recently when asked how criticism affects him. "It's a natural thing to happen that one day you have strong drivers in a strong team, so you end up with a strong combination and then obviously that is difficult to beat."

Newey and Vettel appears not just difficult to beat but omnipotent. At the start of the season, when the car was not the quickest and results proved unpredictable, Vettel showed his worth and his consistency to collect double-figure points at five of the first seven races.

At the season's business end, once Newey had regained the Red Bull its superiority, Vettel capitalised to score four wins and two podiums from the final seven races. An indomitable duo, perhaps.

Sunday's third title sees Vettel enter an elite band of champions that includes, among others, Senna, Alain Prost and his compatriot Michael Schumacher.

All three had their own equivalents to the RB8, but only Schumacher managed to accumulate three titles in such a short space of time. He too has his critics, so as one German walks away for the final time, another carries the baton forward.

It is not unrealistic to consider Vettel - with another 10 years at least ahead of him - could proceed to match or eclipse his idol's record of seven titles.

Such an achievement, however, should not be required for him to reap the respect he deserves. He is a worthy triple champion.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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