Man, these last 18 months have been a whirlwind. I’ve written about Sebastian Vettel a lot on my website over the last four years or so. And these past four years have been without question, the craziest of Sebastian’s career to date. From one of the most dominant runs in the sports history, followed by a humbling at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo, the drama of the Ferrari switch, the redemption of that 2015 season, and now, here we are. 2016 is half way done and I think it’s safe to say the honeymoon period in Maranello is officially over.
2015. Three wins. All of them earned on merit. Vettel a landslide 3rd overall and the ghosts of that 2014 season forgotten, where for the first time, we had legitimate question marks over Vettel’s status and legacy to date. I was one of the most modest people going into 2016. I had a target of 5 wins. See if Ferrari can catch Mercs out more. And Australia kinda reinforced that. Another brilliant Vettel start, he looked comfortable up the front…. Then the red flag happened. Ferrari is more aggressive and not realize that track position was king, and a win is left on the table as Nico Rosberg takes it comfortably.
And that’s pretty much been the story of Ferrari’s season – Frustration, and the potential they often leave squandered. Engine failures, reliability and tactical blunders in hindsight have seen Ferrari drop to 3rd in the Constructors as Red Bull seem to have found their footing again, inspired by Max Verstappen’s incredible season and Daniel Ricciardo re-discovering his 2014 form.
Then you have a Ferrari team where Sebastian Vettel is seemingly on autopilot, the same thing I took the piss out of Fernando Alonso for last year, where on the face of it, everything seems fine, but the cracks begin to show. Germany last week that prime example, going against his team’s silly decision to try an 8-second undercut, like Nando complaining about his “GP2 engine.”
Factor in technical director James Allison leaving the team via mutual consent a fortnight ago, who many say the passing of his wife may have had something to do with it, and times look rough in that camp. Especially when known softie, Kimi Raikkonen says after Germany: “We need to improve the car in all areas.”
So how has it has been for Dre, the Vettelian? Not as bad as you might think. I think I said this last season, but it’s kind of fun seeing Sebastian as the underdog anti-hero to a sport where it’s revolved around one man for the last 3 years… And that’s Lewis Hamilton.
Make no bones about it, it’s his sport now. He dominates on the track, generates headlines and publicity off of it, unlike anyone we’ve ever seen. And I often think the coolest aspect of being a Sebastian fan, is that he’s the polar opposite to Lewis in terms of lifestyle and character. It’s a nice compensation for the fact that the team seems to be slipping, something of a Ferrari trait over the last 6 years or so. All that hatred over 2013 has gone now, and it just leaves Seb’s character out there for us all to appreciate a heck of a lot more.
Oh, and the man can still drive the bollocks out of an F1 car. Want a reminder as to how good Seb can be at times? Canada.
Another brilliant Seb start takes the lead, and while Ferrari got it wrong on strategy, the final third of the race was what so many wanted to see – An exhibition between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, swapping lap times as Seb was desperate to try and keep up, despite as all knowing Mercs were playing possum and the fact we all know that they’re just so damn fast. Two of the greatest ever on the same playing field. I took a lot of pleasure in that, even if I had every right to be frustrated again given it seemed Ferrari made the wrong decision.
And heck, the pigeon conversation after the race was absolutely hilarious and everything great about their respective characters. One of the highlights of the season from a personality standpoint if you ask me. Trust me, if their respective fanbases behaved like the drivers they apparently love so much, Formula wouldn’t be such a toxic environment right now.
People have asked me – Should Vettel leave? No. It took Michael Schumacher four years to get Ferrari to a point where he won a title, and there’s a valid argument that the McLaren’s of 98’ and 99’ were the last time F1 had seen a car quite as dominant as what Mercs are now.
These kinds of massive changes take time, and it’s easy to forget that the Ferrari team we have now has been rebuilt from the ground up after having Fernando Alonso for 5 years, an obedient teammate, and a misfiring Red Bull team as competition and STILL didn’t win a title, the last year being nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. But this is what happens when the sport is so desperate for stories and what’s an answer to a seemingly unanswerable question: “How do you beat the greatest F1 team in modern history?”
I’ve accepted that this year, will not be that year. Mercs have never looked weaker this year in terms of leaving the door open to be beaten on multiple occasions this season, and despite that, they’ve won 11 out of 12 so far this season and are on course for the greatest season ever in terms of win percentage. The only time they haven’t was when they literally removed themselves from a Grand Prix! So yeah, fair to say this season is a write-off.
I’m just going to sit back, and not take Seb too seriously for the rest of the year. If he can nab a GP between now and the end of the year, that’s a bonus, but I already know he has the ability to cause some upsets, and that’s half the battle here – But as we all already know, it’s the car that needs to be the difference maker, and 2017 can’t come around quicker given it’s seemingly another F1 soft reset.
Is that what it’s like being a Ferrari fan? I mean, the red is nice an’ all, but goddamn, this team is often like watching your newborn child trying to walk. Endearing, kinda cool, but still kinda frustrating all at the same time. And you often bump your head on something.