Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Red Bull ‘driving into a new era’ with the launch of RB15

Red Bull Racing revealed their 2019 F1 car today, labelled the RB15, ahead of pre-season testing in a few weeks time. This comes after Toro Rosso’s unveiling on Monday which revealed another high-shine and  vibrant livery with the trade-mark Red Bull colours.

Red Bull have been a hive of activity on social media in the build-up to the launch, conducting interviews with drivers Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly that discussed how they have geared up for the new season, and how nice it is having an Aston Martin as a company car. Verstappen also addressed the youthfulness of this year’s driver pairing and said, “I don’t think it is an advantage but also not a disadvantage… When you are 30 years old you have a lot more experience, it’s not necessarily that you are faster”. Quite right Max.

In the 2018 F1 season fans enjoyed a sleek, matte livery, contrasting with the Baby Bulls ‘fizzy drink’ aesthetic, with Aston Martin’s sponsorship proudly displayed on its rear spoiler.

Today, Red Bull have treated fans to a one-off livery in honour of an official filming day at Silverstone. It is unclear whether this livery will be used in pre-season testing, however it is thought normal service will resume come the Melbourne Grand Prix.

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

For now, fans can enjoy yet another matte navy blue and red livery; the car retains its traditional ‘charging bull’ motif, but with a greater emphasis on geometric patterns than in previous years.

So, what can we conclude from today’s unveiling?

Yep, it’s definitely a Red Bull!

Red Bull’s 2018 challenger launched

Today, Red Bull followed Haas and Williams in launching their 2018 F1 car, the RB14. They are the highest profile team to launch yet so it was all eyes on the Milton Keynes-based team when the covers came off the RB14 this morning, prior to a shake-down run at Silverstone.

The RB14’s first major difference is the livery: a matte, futuristic looking design that has pixilated regions. It’s a radical step compared to Red Bull liveries past. But before we all get too excited, the race livery will be revealed at Barcelona for testing—that is more likely to be the blue, yellow and red mix that has been typical of Red Bull in the past few years.

It’s not the first time they’ve come up with a drastically different test livery compared to the race livery and, knowing Red Bull, it probably won’t be the last.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Car-wise, the biggest change is obviously the halo which has been painted the same matte blue as the chassis and blends in well with the rest of the car. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world but, on first glance, it’s much less noticeable than before.

Elsewhere, the front suspension has been raised slightly to match Mercedes and Ferrari while the ‘Pingu’-dubbed hole in the nose has stayed. Aero-wise the RB14 isn’t anywhere near as bare as its predecessor was at its launch—that should stand Red Bull in better stead for the season ahead.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

2017 was not as successful as anyone had hoped for Red Bull, when an aerodynamics-based rule change should’ve played in their favour, especially with Adrian Newey on board. When they launched the RB13 with the headline “unlucky for some” they hoped that it would be unlucky for Mercedes and Ferrari, not for their drivers. The car was almost bare at the launch and then at pre-season testing with the ‘B-spec’ car arriving for the Spanish GP to no avail.

Their main problem wasn’t speed, it was reliability—something that both Red Bull and McLaren alike hope that Renault have gotten on top of for 2018. If the expectation was high for 2017, it’s even higher for 2018 with both drivers starting to look restless.

Daniel Ricciardo will again be partnered by Max Verstappen, and while the latter’s contract stretches to 2020, Ricciardo is up for renewal. Mercedes and Ferrari would both happily have the Australian alongside their respective star drivers but both offer effective ‘number 2’ drives. Staying at Red Bull may turn out to be a preferable option for Ricciardo, but if he does go Carlos Sainz is in prime position to replace him.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

All of this hinges on what kind of 2018 Red Bull have. If they’re fighting Mercedes and Ferrari, both drivers will be happy—if not, they’ve got a problem on their hands.

With an extra five days of preparation, will Red Bull be able to return to winning ways or will they face another year in the doldrums? Only time will tell…