x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Vettel and Red Bull's dominance of Formula One

Vettel's dominance has led to questions regarding just how much of his superiority is down to talent.

Sebastian Vettel never liked the nickname "Baby Schumi". Last November, a week after becoming Formula One's youngest title winner at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, the then-23 year old wrote a column for German newspaper Bild saying he does not enjoy comparisons with a seven-time world champion.

"I don't really like to compare my life and career with Michael Schumacher's," he wrote. "He is simply a legend, and I am only just getting started."

That should have proved an ominous indication of the intentions of this young man with a small frame and large ambitions.

One year on, the Red Bull Racing driver has driven as near-perfect a season as has been witnessed since Schumacher in 2004, when his compatriot won 12 of the first 13 races of the season, and has claimed for himself a plethora of records - none more important than his latest, which he secured yesterday afternoon in the Japanese sunshine.

Vettel is now not only the youngest world champion, but also the youngest two-time world champion after completing a compelling, if conservative, race to finish third at the Japanese Grand Prix at the historical Suzuka Circuit.

In ensuring he leads the drivers' standings by 114 points with only 100 points available from the final four races, Vettel joins a pantheon of greats who enjoyed their championship coronation in the Japanese countryside.

Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen and, of course, Schumacher have all claimed titles at Suzuka.

Not since Schumacher won the 2004 title in Belgium with four races remaining has a championship been wrapped up so prematurely.

Vettel's dominance has led to questions regarding just how much of his superiority is down to talent and how much is down to his Renault-powered RB7.

"Sebastian is very solid driver - one of the best in the paddock - and certainly it is clear he has the best car this year. But he made the most out of it and deserves to win the championship," Sergio Perez, the Mexican rookie, said.

Kamui Kobayashi, Perez's teammate at Sauber, said part of the reason Vettel has the best car in the paddock is down to Vettel himself.

The two drivers were teammates in Formula 3 and the Japanese driver remembers his partner's excellent communication skills.

"He has really good communication with the team and I think that was something he's had for a long time," Kobayashi said.

"He was really good at communicating in Formula 3 with the team and I think that's everything: that's why he can make a really good car and he has the fastest car on the track."

Perez, when asked whether he would be competing for the championship were he driving a Red Bull rather than a Sauber, replied: "If you ask any driver, he will say 'yes', otherwise they know they are not good enough.

"I believe in myself and if I have the best car, definitely I would be fighting for the title."

But Vettel's teammate Mark Webber arguably has the exact same car, yet has failed to win a race this season.

Following his fourth-place finish at Suzuka yesterday, the 35 year old is now fourth in the drivers' standings.

For arguments sake, were Vettel to be hypothetically removed from the championship and his points redistributed accordingly - so Lewis Hamilton takes 25 points instead of 18 for his second place finish in Australia - only 10 points would separate the top three drivers in the standings. Jenson Button would lead with 249 points, followed by Fernando Alonso on 240 and Webber one point further behind.

In reality, for Vettel to lead with such a massive margin proves it is his consistency that has paid dividends.

Gone are the accusations from Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren-Mercedes team principal, that Vettel is a "Crash Kid" as was the case following a collision with Button at the Belgian Grand Prix last season. Now he is "Mr Consistent".

Fifteen races contested, 12 pole positions, nine race wins and the only driver to finish every race this season, Vettel is almost monotonously reliable.

"[Whitmarsh] has had to eat those words, hasn't he?" Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said with a grin.

If Vettel can maintain the consistency he has shown this year there will be few speculators willing to rule out the idea of him becoming the youngest triple title winner next year - although Alonso last night spoke of his determination to take the title for himself.

Certainly, Adrian Newey, the man credited with designing Vettel's RB7, has nothing but praise for the young German, stressing that it is up to his team to ensure Vettel continues his dominance next year.

"Sebastian is very gifted naturally, but he works hard at it and that is always the hallmark of a great driver," Newey said.

"There's no doubt he can [win more titles], but it's up to us to try to deliver the car that allows him to do it.

"He is a very bright young lad who thinks a lot about what he does, takes a lot of time to try to understand the car, understand his own performance, and like most good drivers he has a good feeling for the car."

Horner said Vettel's second championship had "marked him out as one of the greats".

"At such a young age it's phenomenal what he's achieved in such a short space of time," he said.

"He strives for perfection and the work rate that he puts in is one of the things that marks him out. He will continue to grow from here. He is continuing to get stronger and to evolve as a driver and a person."

Last year, Vettel said he was "just getting started" while this year Horner said his young charge's "best is still to come".

Both statements will be greeted with gloom from his racing rivals; many of whom had likely hoped the years of Formula One being dominated by a German ended when Schumacher left the sport for a three-year sabbatical at the end of 2006.

Vettel, despite his dislike for comparisons, is quickly proving a new era of supremacy could be under way.