Saturday 25 November 2017

Motorsport: Vettel storming out of sight

Tom Cary , in Valencia

Time to dust off the record books; it looks as if they may need to be rewritten.

Sebastian Vettel's sixth win in eight races this year has extended the German's lead in the title race to a massive 77 points.

It has also raised the deeply unwelcome prospect that we may be dealing with the deadest of dead rubbers by the time we leave Europe for the Far East this autumn.

Slowly, inexorably, Vettel's grip on this world championship grows ever more vice-like. Such is the 23-year-old's lead he could set off on his summer holidays now and still be leading by the time we visit Spa in late August.

The German could even take Lewis Hamilton's towel for his sun lounger; the McLaren driver threw his in yesterday, noting that Red Bull's cars "would need to fall off the track" for him to stand a chance at present.

We are entering dangerous territory here: slow death by asphyxiation.

Not since Michael Schumacher bored everyone into submission in 2004 have fans been forced to contemplate hegemony on this scale.

Schumacher won 13 of 18 races that year in his Ferrari, giving him a 72pc success rate. The man they call 'Baby Schumi' is currently ticking along at 75pc and, in any case, has an extra race in which to break his compatriot's record for wins in a season.

Best ever? Alberto Ascari also had a 75pc win rate in 1952 but the championship was only eight races long that year. This season has five months to run and you would not bet against him keeping it up.

Vettel's consistency is frightening. He came second in the two races he did not win this year and has claimed 186 points out of a possible 200. To coin a Hamilton phrase, it is getting "frickin' ridiculous".

Jenson Button won six of the first seven races in 2009 before his Brawn car stuttered. But even without winning another race that year the Englishman still claimed the title with something to spare.

Red Bull, by contrast, are showing no signs of falling away. On the contrary. As Mark Webber pointed out: "Valencia is probably one of our three weakest tracks of the year -- and we didn't do too badly today." No indeed.

The race was not expected to be a classic -- Valencia's street circuit is singularly dull -- but with the regulation changes this year there was some hope that it would not be another classic bore. Unfortunately, that was what we got.

Vettel roared off into the lead from pole and was never seen again, Webber claimed third, while Hamilton, starting third, got a poor start and was overtaken by both Ferraris. The Briton, who has come under fire in recent weeks for his aggressive driving, seemed a touch tentative as he ceded room into the first corner. He did not dispute that he was trying to keep his nose clean.

"I got a bad launch," he explained. "I was under fire. I tried to protect and stay out of trouble."

Hamilton pitted early to try to undercut the Ferraris but that only meant he was eating into his fresh rubber before everyone else. He eventually finished nearly 50 seconds back.

Hamilton's team-mate, Button, was sixth with Force India's Paul di Resta rounding off a disappointing day for the British contingent with 14th.

Still, the 85,000-strong crowd did have something to cheer. Home favourite Fernando Alonso fought a running battle with Webber for second place, eventually winning it when he undercut Red Bull's Australian at the final round of pit stops.

"I was really pleased to taste champagne again," Alonso admitted, "but if anyone thinks we can win the championship with a car 0.8 seconds slower than Red Bull they maybe don't understand Formula One." When even Alonso chucks in the towel, you know the writing is on the wall.

Next up, in two weeks' time, is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a track that Red Bull, appropriately enough for a team based in nearby Milton Keynes, have made their own for the past two years. Vettel will be the red-hot favourite to grab another piece of history, hastening the death of the season.

It is not his fault, of course. The index-finger waggling celebration is becoming irksome but only because he is jabbing it in our faces every fortnight.

Vettel, who turns 24 a week today, is a brilliant young driver whose relentless quest for perfection is impressive. It escaped no one's notice that he set the fastest lap of the race when under no pressure, while bearing down on victory near the end of the race. He did not need to take the risk. He did it simply because he could; because he likes records.

As he crossed the finish line yesterday -- his victory greeted by deafening silence in the multinational media centre -- Vettel squealed over the radio: "Fantastic boys, I can't tell you how good this feels. This was such a nice race." At least he was happy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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