x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Signs pointing ever upwards for Red Bull's Vettel

From tough times in South Korea to some magic in Melbourne, via one world title, Vettel is on a meteoric rise.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his third grand prix victory in a row in Melbourne on Sunday. Joe Castro / EPA
Sebastian Vettel celebrates his third grand prix victory in a row in Melbourne on Sunday. Joe Castro / EPA

It can be hard to wring any kind of everyday insight from Formula One drivers, whose lives seem anything but everyday, but something about one of them today might just furnish a hint of advice.

Things in life can and do change hurriedly, a fact reiterated in the case of Sebastian Vettel, an outrageously successful young superstar.

Absurd as it sounds, he might even work as a curious balm to beat back the blues.



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While nobody should have reserved any sympathy for Vettel just last October 24, it has been only three races since he looked forlorn in the rain.

Suddenly, one Brazil and one Abu Dhabi and one Melbourne and five months later, we perceive Vettel as the mastodon, the establishment, the proven and defending champion, the calm veteran who dominated Melbourne such that he might turn the whole five-continent season into a personal victory tour.

"I don't really like the word 'dominant' at this stage," he is forced to state already.

You never know, do you, and it would be so dull if you did.

The sages always said sport teaches lessons, and you cannot argue with the sages. Just look at the wise pearls sport has dispensed in this 21st century.

For instance, we have learnt that victory can come with the help of devious pharmacists. We have learnt that corruption often works pretty well, especially for gathering riches before the depressing truth alights. We have learnt with gathering frequency that athletes should not have to abide by the same standards as the rest of citizenry, and that much of the citizenry seconds that premise.

These are vital lessons, all, but anymore the harder part can be reaching into the maelstrom to pluck out something helpful even if it sounds like ancient hokum. And here comes Vettel, surely among the least pitiable figures among the seven billion, reminding that the future can shoo the present pretty quickly.

Just last October 24 at rainy Yeongam in South Korea, Vettel ruled the country's first grand prix. He navigated the treachery with peerless aplomb for 45 laps. He was fixed to win. Ready to lead in the standings for the first time all season, after 17 races.

Instead, in turn 17, he suddenly lost a row of cylinders, and I think we all can agree we hate losing a row of cylinders. He felt excessive vibrations in a business in which excessive vibrations really do mean excessive vibrations. He said half his engine remained working and that he could "count down to the moment" when the other half would join it in uselessness.

He said: "It was such a hard moment," even if you did want to tell him to cool it, that as a 23-year-old F1 driver jetting around the world, he knew not hard moments.

From lurching for first place in the year-long grind, he slid to fourth. His chances just about dissolved. For two weeks he gained reference as a young talent who had not wrung as much as he could from his soaring car, had won just two races from nine pole positions, remained a star in waiting and stood "best remembered for his acts of impetuosity" - crashes at Istanbul and Spa.

With remaining races whittled to two and Vettel trailing leader Fernando Alonso by 25 points and teammate Mark Webber by 14, plus Lewis Hamilton, conventional thinking held that Red Bull should tilt favour toward Webber for Brazil and Abu Dhabi if they wanted to win one of those nifty driving titles. Team honcho Christian Horner demurred, refusing the free advice from some in the omniscient media.

As Vettel sounded like a thousand misguided hopefuls, refusing surrender while pegging his title chance as "tiny", the Vettel headlines included "Don't count me out" and "I can still win title". The words "a title long shot" appeared in sequence. Alonso headlines included "Continues march toward title" and "Closes in on title". Experts opined on the improbability of anyone catching Alonso.

Well, Vettel has led every lap of the three races since. He won in Sao Paulo to trim Alonso's lead, won on Yas Island to surmount it (with amusing help from Vitaly Petrov), won commandingly in Melbourne in what the BBC called "a faultless race".

He is the seasoned force! He is the grown man who knows how to prepare! He's solid!

Could he still be 23?

Of course, given the same premise of rapid change, he always could plummet into abject failure in life. But five months after South Korea and four months after Abu Dhabi, that is not the guess of the educated.