Tuesday 12 December 2017

F1: Vettel's treble season to live long in the memory

German Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel parades his Red Bull car around the streets of Graz in Austria
German Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel parades his Red Bull car around the streets of Graz in Austria

Even Ferrari's ill-fated bid can't take gloss off thrilling finale to year of quality and variety, writes David Kennedy

The FIA delivered its quietus on Thursday afternoon and it was a body blow to Ferrari. They confirmed that Sebastian Vettel had unequivocally won the World Championship.

Following last Sunday's sensational Brazilian Grand Prix, Ferrari had carefully studied footage of the race and determined that Vettel had overtaken Jean-Eric Vergne in a yellow-light zone on lap four. That should have given the German a penalty drive-in which would have relegated him to eighth in the race, thus making Fernando Alonso the 2012 world champion.

It became a rainbow of controversy. Whilst it wasn't exactly a mirage through rose-coloured Ferrari spectacles, the FIA's final elucidation was that a green flag was waved in the yellow-flag zone. This statement prompted Ferrari to ultimately raise the white flag on the whole affair and Vettel went back to counting his burgeoning collection of silver.

Ferrari may have been clutching at straws in their attempt to reach into the clenched jaws of victory and replace Red Bull's title win with defeat, but who could blame them? Perhaps some soul-searching is needed now they've been given the answer.

Alonso did everything in his power to make it happen last Sunday and all the other Sundays this season, but he was a one-man show against the might of a Red Bull team that has the perfect nexus: that 360-degree fortification which is required to bring the trophy home.

Vettel presented an impregnable front of one capable of finishing within the given parameters to secure the title, despite being spun around in the opening-lap melee when he faced a number of oncoming cars hurtling towards him as he drove backwards to avoid them; he has all those to thank for preserving his dream. You could say he reversed his way into this title.

Then he had to fight his way from last place to sixth; he made an extra pit-stop to correct an earlier erroneous choice of tyres and he had his radio communication pack up, all of which would have broken the spirit of any other mortal, but he kept it together and slowly but surely began to look invincible.

Even the pace car came out at the end, like some kind of saviour appearing to redeem and deliver him to his destiny but that in turn robbed us of possible unforgiving minutes in this showcase of ambition at Sao Paolo – the ne plus ultra for anointing an F1 deity.

The Red Bull team, from driver to designer to gofer, earned that championship and however disappointing it is to see the underdog come so tantalisingly close – and Alonso will have earned a special place in people's affection for his tenacity – you cannot escape the fact that the Austrian team based in Milton Keynes is relentless when it comes to upping their game. This they have done with consistency since they arrived in F1 and their professionalism has paid dividends. In that regard they are worthy of both the constructor and driver championships.

And hidden in the undergrowth of that great championship battle was a fine drive by Jenson Button, who seems to have 20/20 vision in propitious wet weather and 100 per cent visionary skills when it comes to making the correct tyre choice. He bookended a season with wins and added Belgium in between just for good luck. Bowing out on a high, he will relish the prospect of No 1 status at McLaren next season.

Nico Hulkenberg added to the thrilling race, leading for 30 laps. But a collision with the leader Lewis Hamilton put paid to what could have been a probable win for Hamilton and a podium finish for Hulkenberg, but the latter had to settle for fifth and a non-finish for Lewis. He leaves Force India for Sauber next season, replacing Sergio Perez who moves to McLaren to replace Hamilton – whose race Hulkenberg ruined. The F1 driver circle gets smaller the closer you get to the core.

Apart from a blistering season that had us on the edge of our seats so many times, we were also treated to the sight of six world champions racing together, of which five won races. The one that got away was Michael Schumacher, who, had he not incurred a grid demotion in Monaco, could well have won the race from the pole position he gained there.

We had seven different winners in the first seven races. Vettel took four straight wins in the second half of the season. It was all the more impressive that Alonso was even in the running at the end, given that his last race win was in Germany at the end of the first half of the season.

McLaren won seven races, four to Hamilton, three to Button, and between those two drivers the team had a hat-trick of wins in the first three races of the second half – Hungary, Belgium and Italy.

Red Bull also won seven races, five to Vettel, two to Mark Webber. Kimi Raikkonen was the only non-McLaren/Red Bull driver to win a race in the second part of the season.

Nico Rosberg, Pastor Maldonado and Raikkonen had one race win apiece, giving Mercedes, Williams and Lotus something to savour.

We had a five-way fight for the championship with a handful of races to go, which culminated in a two-way fight right to the waving of the final chequered flag. Red Bull won the constructors' title but incredibly Ferrari beat McLaren to second place, despite having just three race wins to their seven.

And so Sebastian Vettel, at just 25, joins other champions to have won at least three titles, luminaries including Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. He is also one of three to have scored three-in-a-row along with Fangio and Schumacher. He is also the youngest of that trio to do so.

This was a season that will forever be remembered for its variety, for its quality and for its thrilling finale. So Fernando Alonso – to quote a line from a Rolling Stones song, 'you can't always get what you want' – well, you sure tried, not just sometime but all the time and though you didn't win, you could never never say you failed.

It was a gargantuan effort and one that that will live in our memories if not the record books.

Here's to next season.

Sunday Indo Sport

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