x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Finally, credit where it is due for Sebastian Vettel in Formula One

Fans at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will witness a driver at the top of his game in the German, writes Graham Caygill.

Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull driver, is overwhelmed with emotion as fans cheer him after claiming the world drivers’ title in India on Sunday. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull driver, is overwhelmed with emotion as fans cheer him after claiming the world drivers’ title in India on Sunday. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

It was refreshing to see Sebastian Vettel get the reception that his achievement of four world titles in a row deserved.

The Indian crowd on Sunday roared their approval and it clearly moved the Red Bull Racing driver, who acknowledged that it stung when he was booed by crowds earlier in the season, simply for having the audacity to win.

When the German won his third championship in Brazil last year, he said he did not like comparing his titles, with each one sharing equal importance.

He might not want to, but looking from the outside in, this was arguably his best year in terms of pure driver performance. It is hard to think of a single error he has made in any of the 16 races so far.

Since August, Red Bull have improved their car aerodynamically, and the Vettel-Red Bull package has been unstoppable. But Vettel has proven that he can win in a variety of ways.

Leading from the front, making no mistakes and keeping his concentration? Done with aplomb in Belgium, Italy and Korea.

Needing to make up 30 seconds in 15 laps to offset an extra pit stop after a safety-car period? Performed in thrilling fashion in Singapore.

Having to drive on degrading tyres at a fast pace to make a strategy work, then overtaking your rival at the first opportunity? Achieved in Japan as he hunted down Romain Grosjean.

Pitting from the lead after two laps, then cutting back through the field to second place, ensuring your strategy is better than your teammate’s? Done in swashbuckling fashion on Sunday in New Delhi.

It was not always like this, however. Red Bull suffered heavily with high wear in the opening races, particularly as the strong aerodynamics on their car proved a weakness because their Pirellis were being chewed up faster than those of their rivals.

It was often an exercise in damage limitation in the early races, but Vettel did not waiver or exceed his car’s limitations in an attempt to gain a couple of extra points.

Fourth place in China and Spain, on paper, were not great results, but they ensured that he did not lose significant ground on those days, and was able to capitalise when he and Red Bull began to enjoy their competitive edge.

Yes, Red Bull have produced a strong package, the fastest car on the grid, but it has not been so good that it has been one-two finishes for the Austrian team in every race.

Far from it. Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber has finished second to him twice all year, and the Australian is fifth in the championship, 174 points behind the German.

Webber is a good driver, not a great one. But when the car is set up as he likes it, he can be unbeatable.

Yet this season he has rarely got near Vettel. He has not finished runner-up to his teammate in any of his past three title runs, and barring an incredible end to the season, it will not happen this year, either.

Vettel is not the first man to win a title in the fastest car in the field. That is the way F1 works, sadly for the sporting purist who wants a fair fight.

The German is a great driver, but of course, he would not win the title if you put him in a Caterham. No one would.

Part of F1 has always been the technological battle between teams, and it is not Vettel or Red Bull’s fault that both Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes both failed abysmally to produce a car capable of pressing them.

While it is disappointing that the season’s championship is already over, spectators at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend can look forward to seeing a man on top of his game on one of the greatest runs the sport has seen.

Victory at Yas Marina Circuit would make it seven wins in a row for Vettel, 26, matching the record of Michael Schumacher in 2004 for most successive victories in one year.

Alberto Ascari holds the record for the most triumphs in succession with nine, over the 1952 and 1953 seasons.

If Vettel wins in Abu Dhabi, the United States and Brazil, the three remaining races, he can match Schumacher for most wins in a season at 13, so that is at stake, too.

It may not be a championship-decider, but potentially seeing history in the making is reason enough to watch what transpires at Yas Marina this weekend.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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