So, this is it. Day 30, the grand finale! And for this one, I thought I’d close on something special. I often get trolled by online Fernando Alonso fanboys about how much worse Sebastian Vettel is than him. It’s a really fun gig. So I thought I’d try and come up with one of the strongest arguments possible that he is one of the greatest racing drivers ever.
He’s won four straight Formula One World Championships. Thanks for reading!
No? Do you need more? Okay, cool. But I’ll give you some of the most common damning arguments I hear, and do my best to end all of this silly talk. Because, and here’s a spoiler – I think Sebastian Vettel is in the Top 5, and probably the best of his era, a nudge ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Maybe. Sort of.
“He won in a dominant car!”
…Welcome to Formula 1. Over half the seasons in the post-war era have had one car win more than half the races in a year. This is a sport of dominance, and competition is a bonus, not an expectation. For better or worse, this is a sport where it’s a skill in itself to be in the right car at the right time. Ask Lewis Hamilton. Or Nico Hulkenberg.
Best car wins in F1. In a sport based on engineering and mechanics, that will always come first, even if we as fans are more emotionally invested in the squishy bit behind the wheel. I’ve always said that Fernando Alonso will probably regret around a third of his career when he hangs it up due to bad decision making. Leaving McLaren early alone cost him two years. Probably stuck it out two years too long at Ferrari as well.
And regarding that Red Bull… It’s amazing how Mercedes came along in 2014 and really showed Red Bull how to dominate a season. Even with Seb’s win in Australia, that’s only the ninth time in 60 hybrid era races that Mercedes has been beaten.
The Red Bull era really wasn’t as bad in hindsight, especially looking back on it now. Part of the reason was only really because Mark Webber was still a really good driver until 2013 too. Red Bull only had the best car out of the box in 2011. Two of the seasons they won the Constructor’s title, were two of the most competitive on record. Especially in 2012 when Webber was +57 on Felipe Massa, and that was what made the difference in the team’s trophy. As said yesterday, we don’t make these claims about Nando being an underdog if he wins that title. Especially given how much his own fanbase loves him. *Kanye Shrug*
Out of those four titles, I’d argue only once in 2011 was Red Bull clearly best. You can throw in the 2013 second half too if you like, but that was more a case of circumstance with Red Bull choosing to focus on that season, and not the hybrid era that was coming up, which would later prove to be their undoing.
Compare that to the last three seasons where the titles come down to which nightmare in Silver can win the most, and I think it’s obvious we were rather spoilt back then.
And on that 2012 season one more time – I don’t think you can argue it wasn’t a competitive season when Fernando was four points away from winning a title in which he only would have won three out of 19 races.
“He only wins from the front!”
This is true. Working purely from memory, I don’t think Seb has ever won a race from lower than third. That’s not really a bad thing though. Why would you WANT to win a race from lower down and give yourself more trouble than its worth? F1 is a sport of efficiency, you want to win taking as little risk as possible, and even better, as slowly as possible.
Sebastian has 46 pole positions. Fourth on the all-time list. To say he needs to win from further down to be considered better goes against one of the most fundamental principles in the sport. Sure, it’s nicer and more rewarding from an entertainment standpoint when you do, like Nando winning in Valencia from 11th, but we all know that’s normal.
Sebastian is the “Ronnie O’Sullivan” of Formula 1. He’s one of the best front-runners ever. The amount of times he’d break off from the front, and be two seconds clear by the end of the first lap? That in itself was awesome.
And when necessary, he’s always had the ability to come back. Abu Dhabi and especially Brazil 2012 he clawed his way back into competitive positions from the back, going against that old myth that he couldn’t overtake either. Tangent, gotta put Monza 2011 in there. Suck it, Nando!
Aren’t his stats padded?
Yeah, to a degree. Nature of capitalism, F1’s a bigger sport than it was in the past, and you’re gonna end up running more races now as a result. But Sebastian’s still got a Hall of Fame level win percentage rate; 43 out of 180, good for 23.89%, just outside the Top 10, and definitely in there when you factor in for the fact that no-one in the Top 5 had 100 races to there name for various reasons. For reference, Lewis’s is 7th with 28%, and Fernando is at just 11%, his veteran career doing as much harm as good given he’s now gone nearly four years since his last win.
But statistically, Lewis has overtaken him since the Mercedes era, but Vettel is still insane. In his 180 races, 4 world titles (=3rd all-time, as well as the youngest to ever win each of those milestones), 43 wins (4th all-time), 46 poles (4th all-time), 87 podiums (5th all-time), and almost every youngest driver record in the book not owned by Max Verstappen, because Red Bull love a good experiment.
He’s had a 13 win season. Had a streak of 9 in a row, that’s never been done before in the same season. He has the two highest scoring seasons in the “25-18-15” era. 2nd all-time on the points list. Most poles in a season too, 15. I could go on, but even in the new age of Hamilton, his numbers are OUTRAGEOUS. I mean, he’s Top 5 in every major category.
Sure, there’s some nuance to pick apart, like folks like Jackie Stewart retiring early, Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna passing in their primes, and more, but he holds up in any era.
…Daniel Ricciardo, Dre.
Okay, I hear you. 2014 was a bad year. Vettel was a slow learner for the new cars. Not to mention, ridiculously unlucky. 2012 Hamilton levels of bad luck. But no doubt, Ricciardo grabbed his chance with both hands, and I give him every credit for taking the ball and running for it. He’s been a Driver of the Year candidate two of the three years he’s been in a top-tier car. If anything, it doesn’t make Seb’s humbling all that bad, because Ricciardo is a World Championship level driver.
Outside of that, and maybe 2015 at a stretch (More down to Ferrari incompetence), run this down:
2007: Scores a point as a stand-in at BMW, youngest ever at the time, adds a 4th in China.
2008: WINS A RACE FOR TORO ROSSO AT AGE 20. Proves it was no fluke by running Top 6 for the rest of the season.
2009: Goes to Red Bull, beats Mark Webber in his first season, finishes runner-up to a OP Button
2015: Wins three races against most dominant car F1 had ever seen, had 13 podiums, finished 3rd overall, Driver of the Year contender.
…Get the gist. The black marks against his career is slim pickings at best. Even Lewis had the 2011 season where he had a near emotional breakdown and got caught in a blood feud with Felipe Massa.
The teammates argument doesn’t really hold up given Nando’s best match-up was probably him over Kimi Raikkonen, but a Kimi who was past his prime. Outside of that… Fisi maybe? Mark Webber was a very good, maybe even great driver who was a perennial contender for years. Lewis has the edge on teammates, even if we as a media entity spent years trying to take credit AWAY from Nico at every given opportunity.
So where’s Vettel in the all-time list for me? I have him at 5. The only four I have above, are Fangio, Schumacher, Prost, and Senna (By a whisker). If Lewis wins title #5, I’ll put him ahead, but the reason I struggle is that Lewis had 3 or 4 mediocre seasons between 2008-12. Sure, the McLaren wasn’t a world beater, but I don’t think he was above par by any stretch, unlike Seb in 2015, 2008 or 9. And Lewis statistically will always be further inflated because he’s spent his entire career at race-winning level teams, from day one. And this is Lewis’s 11th full to boot.
I think you could be the harshest Seb critic in the world, and he’s not outside of the Top 8. I haven’t heard a compelling argument suggest otherwise, unless you have a high priority over the older era of drivers, like Jackie, Clark, etc.
Sebastian could retire tomorrow, he’s a first ballot member of Mount Nyevelt. I’d love to hear you guys takes in the comments, holla at me. Thanks for reading.
And that does it, 30 posts in 30 days. This has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done as a journalist, and I don’t know how daily editors do this shit, it’s body-breaking! Massive thanks to everyone who’s been reading throughout the month, it’s been so much fun and so satisfying to hear you all keep up! I’m going to take a little break from writing massive amounts, but I’ll be back real soon. Thanks again, you guys are the best, and I love you all.