x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Vettel can dominate F1 but remains in the slipstream of Senna

Ayrton Senna's calculated intensity and refusal to ever back away from a fight make him Formula One's greatest.

Johnny Herbert still rates Ayrton Senna, pictured, as the best driver to race in Formula One.
Johnny Herbert still rates Ayrton Senna, pictured, as the best driver to race in Formula One.

Sebastian Vettel joined the list of Formula One greats when he clinched his second consecutive world title on Sunday, but he still has a long way to go before he can be considered in the same class as Ayrton Senna.

Senna was the ultimate for me. He was the best driver I raced against, and the one I hold in the highest esteem.

The Brazilian three-time world champion never backed away from a fight and his battles with Alain Prost were fascinating.

There was a calculated intensity to his racing. He was not afraid to take a risk to win, and you very rarely saw him make a mistake. Yes, he got caught up in incidents and collisions, but a genuine mistake? They were few and far between.

I have yet to see the documentary on his life, but from what I have heard, his achievements are that much more impressive when you realise the pressure he was under and the harassment that he faced during his battle with Prost.

Vettel is a terrific talent, and can become the greatest driver in F1 history, but for me, it is still Senna at the moment.

Vettel is only going to get better, though.

He has dominated this season, making very few mistakes, and his best years of his career are potentially still ahead of him. He is only 24 and the fact he is nowhere near his prime is a scary prospect for the rest of the grid.

The best years of a driver are usually when they are in their 30s.

Damon Hill, Niki Lauda, Mika Hakkinen, Prost, Ayrton Senna are all drivers who spring to mind who won championships when they were over 30. All improved and drove better in that decade as they maintained the speed they had, but with added experience were even quicker and a better overall package.

Take Jenson Button, for example. The Briton is 31 and is in his 12th season of F1 and putting in the best performances of his career. Outperforming Lewis Hamilton in the same McLaren-Mercedes is no mean feat.

Button is more confident and is driving more intelligently than when he was in his mid 20s. We can expect the same from Vettel.

Vettel already drives with such maturity for a 24 year old and I have always been very impressed with him, ever since he first came to the sport.

He did a great job at Toro Rosso and got them their first, and only, victory in the Italian Grand Prix in a car in 2008 that had no right to be up there.

But it was at Red Bull Racing that I really began to notice just how good he was.

He was a little fortunate to arrive at the team just as they developed their first competitive car, but you still have to be able to use it and he won in his third race with them, and effectively became their team leader.

Being a team leader is not easy as there is a lot of pressure on you. You have to carry the team's expectations, carry yourself well and lead by example, when things aren't going well, not just when you're winning, and Vettel has done that remarkably well for someone so young.

What I like about the German and his driving this season is that when he needed to produce he has delivered.

On Saturday he put together a sensational lap in a car that was probably not the fastest that day to secure yet another pole position.

Last year he was at the front of the starting grid 10 times in 19 starts. This season he has gone even better, claiming 12 poles which he has converted into nine wins after 15 races.

That is a hallmark of a champion.

Yes, he had a car advantage, but you have to be good enough to make use of it and few people, Michael Schumacher apart, have controlled a season as impressively as Vettel has done this year.

He has been fast and consistent, but he will get even better with more experience. This is only his fourth full season in F1 and he could have up to 15 more ahead of him if he keeps himself fit and healthy.

Johnny Herbert is a former F1 driver with three career victories. His column is written with the assistance of staff writer Graham Caygill


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