For anyone who has watched F1, the name Sebastian Vettel must be a familiar one. Loved and adored by fans worldwide, he is one of the oldest drivers on the grid. Having left Ferrari at the end of 2020, his 2021 campaign with Aston Martin didn't turn out as expected, but it did have its high points.
Nowadays, we know him as someone who contended with Lewis Hamilton for the title twice and lost out on both occasions. But when he came into the sport 14 years ago, things were a bit different for the German. There was once a time when no one was a match for him on the grid.
On his first race weekend at the US Grand Prix of 2007, exiting his pit garage for the first time, he was penalized for speeding in the pit-lane. The record still stands for being the quickest a driver has ever been penalized. But that was just the beginning of the records he was starting to set and the history books he was going to rewrite.
Statistically, Vettel is the third most successful driver in F1 history
With 53 wins, 57 pole positions, 122 podiums and 3061 career points, there is no doubt that Vettel has proven himself as one of the best F1 drivers ever. He was the face of F1 for four years; from 2010 to 2013, during which he racked up four consecutive world championship titles with Red Bull.
Over the 14 years he's been in the sport, he's secured a number of records. Most wins in a season, most pole positions in a season, most laps led in a season, most consecutive wins, most consecutive grand slams, and most wins from pole position in a season are some records achieved by Vettel.
2010 was the year Vettel clinched his first world championship title and he did it in style. He overcame a 25-point deficit to win the last two races and became champion, at 23 years and 133 days, another record that stands to this day.
2011 and 2013 saw Vettel cement his position as the sole heir to the championship throne. There was no competition from anyone else on the grid, simply because he was just too quick for the rest of the pack. His domination was reminiscent of that of his idol and mentor, Michael Schumacher.
Looking back at 2012 however, a 4-way battle was being fought for the championship. The season is considered by many to be the greatest F1 season of all time. Multiple car reliability issues saw Vettel 44 points away from Fernando Alonso (in the first place), going into the summer break. He responded by winning four races in a row.
And in that final race at Interlagos, where at one point Alonso took the championship from him, he kept his calm and carried his car from the back of the grid to a P6 finish. The wet weather, the damage he had taken to his car, radio communications issues - nothing could stop him from getting what was his. Nothing could take his hard-earned title away from him.
His failures overshadowed his success in the eyes of many
At Ferrari, Vettel got off to a flying start to his 2017 campaign with a win in Australia, the first race of the season, followed by another in Bahrain. The chance he had been waiting for was finally here and was ahead of his rival, Lewis Hamilton, going into the summer break. Coming out of the break however, his championship fight turned into shambles as reliability issues plagued his SF70H.
2018 was another year to forget for Vettel. It started off the same way 2017 did, with hopes that this could be the year for him. However, the pressure of being unable to deliver enough pushed the German into making multiple driver errors throughout the season.
Ferrari's poor strategy didn't help either and it was another loss for the Scuderia and their marquee driver. This was the beginning of the end of his time at Ferrari.
In 2019, he was outperformed by new Ferrari recruit Charles Leclerc. 2020 was the worst year for Ferrari statistically. It saw Vettel and Ferrari part ways. Since his childhood days, his dream was to lift the championship trophy adorned in the Ferrari red, the way his idol, Michael Schumacher did.
Heartbreakingly, he admitted on the F1: Beyond the Grid podcast,
"I have failed."
Understanding why his achievements are not talked about enough.
It is safe to say that Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull didn't go down well among all the fans. His biggest enemy during his time there was his own success. He was simply unstoppable and the fans grew tired of watching him win all the time. He was booed on the podium multiple times as a result, too.
Along with this, there came the argument that he was winning just because he had the best car. Some fans and critics failed to accept that it is normal for the world champions to have the best car.
To make matters worse, in his insatiable thirst for success, he had numerous run-ins with teammate Mark Webber, disobeying team orders on multiple occasions. The infamous Multi-21 incident was the breaking point for many fans and Vettel gave them a reason to hate him now.
When the champion showed such an attitude, no matter what the statistics were, the fans wouldn't get behind him. His victories, especially the hard earned drives, were often overlooked. He was the villainous champion of F1.
Driver errors at Ferrari led to many critics undermining his ability to drive under pressure. And on many occasions, the criticism was deserving. In 2018, he made one-too-many errors. In the years that followed, he managed only one win, although Ferrari's machinery was not competitive with Mercedes in comparison.
It is sad to see what has become of Vettel today. He was once a force to be reckoned with, a young champion who burst onto the scene and dominated for four years. What's worse is how little his achievements are talked about. No one can take away from him what he has earned on the track.
Will he go back to being a winner for his new outfit, Aston Martin? Only time will tell. But at least that will remind everyone of what he is capable of. He might not be a consistent 7-time world champion like Lewis Hamilton or a ruthless driver with a knack for perfection like Fernando Alonso. But his accolades speak for themselves and he has cemented his place in F1 history as a true champion.
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