Wednesday 21 March 2018

Trademark: Glorious Vettel makes his point

Ian Parkes

It has become his trademark - a raised forefinger to signify he is number one following another clinching of pole position or after a grand prix victory.

Now, Sebastian Vettel has every justification to stick up two fingers, and not only to mark the achievement of becoming the youngest back-to-back and double world champion in Formula One history.

But two fingers also to the sport's establishment who last season questioned his arguably fortuitous title triumph, his temperament at times, and even his on-track ability.

Yes, Vettel has the car beneath him, a beast of a Red Bull that in its design infancy is crafted not by fancy computer gizmos, but by the fine hand of Adrian Newey.

The most successful engineer F1 has seen relies on paper and pencil to initially weave his magic that ultimately translates into one of the sport's most "phenomenal" machines, an over-used word employed by team principal Christian Horner, but apt nonetheless.

Still, it requires a driver with incredible ability to produce the kind of mesmerising performances we have witnessed this season from Vettel.

In 2010 the 24-year-old came of age, the campaign a learning curve with such an acute incline that this season there can be no doubt he took everything on board last year and moved up another gear.

Last season was proof, if it were needed, of a title race being a marathon and not a sprint, with Vettel making a dash for the line over the closing stages, outpacing Fernando Alonso and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.

On pole 10 times, he only won five races, a poor statistic that undermined his championship ambitions, and underlined why he failed to win his debut crown far earlier in the season.

The most crucial of those victories, of course, was in the final race in Abu Dhabi, giving him the lead in the championship for the first time, and when it mattered the most, at the death.

The build-up to his moment of glory, though, was marred by talks of favouritism over Webber, the Australian pulling no punches at times that he felt he was a number two driver.

And then there was their bust-up in Turkey, the on-track collision that sparked a feud that in turn prompted suggestions Red Bull had a pecking order within their team.

Later in the season, when Vettel rammed into Jenson Button in the Belgian Grand Prix, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh cruelly labelled the German the "crash kid".

Come the denouement, Vettel deserved his accolade as the youngest world champion in F1 history - just, but you can see why question marks lingered coming into this season.

So in becoming a two-time champion, Vettel has achieved the feat a year younger than Fernando Alonso managed in 2006, and pertinently, coming as close to perfection as can possibly be achieved in F1.

From 15 races this season he has been on pole 12 times, moving to within two of Nigel Mansell's 1992 record, the Briton achieving his feat in just 16 races, but in a Williams that carried so much technical wizardry the FIA outlawed it the following year.

And with nine wins to his name, only one driver has managed more - the seemingly incomparable Michael Schumacher, whose 2004 tally of 13 could yet be equalled.

No-one has come close to holding a candle to Vettel, certainly not team-mate Webber who has yet to take the chequered flag this year, and certainly neither Button nor Lewis Hamilton as the former has rightly stated McLaren have made too many mistakes this year.

As for Alonso, he has shown flashes of genius, but in fairness he had no chance due to being handicapped at the start of the year by a Ferrari many claimed was too conservative.

So Vettel again stands looking down on his adversaries, and as a backdrop to his triumph, one of the finest tracks in F1 in Suzuka in Japan where some of the greats of the sport have also been crowned - Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher.

So what next for Vettel? Ahead of him are Schumacher's records of seven world championships, 91 grands prix victories and 68 poles to conquer, milestones that will undoubtedly seem light years away right now.

But he is young, has time on his side, and given the right car in the years to come - and remember he signed with Red Bull through to 2014 earlier this season - who is to say the seemingly unbeatable cannot be beaten?

Press Association

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