Monday, July 08, 2013

Vettel, Vettel Uber Alles

All is well in the world. A Limey has won Wimbledon and a Kraut has won at the Nürburgring.

Do you see what happens when tires are only part of the storyline and not the entire story? We get a close race that goes down to the wire, and we get the best car and the best driver winning. Sebastian Vettel finally won his home Grand Prix, edging Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean for an all-Renault powered podium. Vettel added to his lead over Fernando Alonso, who finished 4th in the F138 Ferrari.

I'm getting a sense of deja vu. It's like the season is starting over again. And in a way that's true with the new/old tire construction making a debut Sunday. It's like we're back in Melbourne. Mercedes are once again struggling to convert great qualifying performances into great race performances. And Lotus are incredibly strong, just as they were before Monaco. One constant is what Vettel and Red Bull are doing.

It's really special to watch, and I feel as though some of the critics are missing out. Those who claim Vettel is lucky or argue that the car is responsible for the success of the driver are failing to appreciate how remarkable the combination has worked, over and over and over, from Grand Prix to Grand Prix, from qualifying to raceday.

Look at the other teams. All of them fluctuate up and down, having a few good races, a few bad ones. Lotus looked very sharp yesterday, yet they are 4th in the constructors' standings because of their inconsistency. Mercedes are second in the standings but struggled yesterday, and also struggled before their covert Pirelli test. Ferrari are closing in on Mercedes, but even Alonso admits that they've lost significant pace. And McLaren are in 6th, their 12 point combined performance yesterday was their BEST of the season.

There's parity in the other F1 teams. Mercedes look good for 3 races, then Lotus charges toward the front, then Ferrari dazzles with a few strong performances. The only team that remains steadily strong is Red Bull. And instead of trying to find fault with that, and instead of harboring hope that heroic matador Fernando Alonso slays the bull (as NBC Sport's Will Buxton and Steve Matchett seem eager to see, every week trying to map out a way for Alonso to win despite his car's inadequacies), just sit back and appreciate the heights being reached by this driver and this team.

We're witnessing Formula 1 history being written by this 26-year old driver and this team which is in its 9th season. It's incredible to behold. This was his 30th win, only 1 shy of tying Nigel Mansell for 5th all-time, 2 behind Alonso for 4th. His 27.27% win rate is better than Prost, Senna, and Stewart.

A few side thoughts from yesterday's race:

I'm glad the cameraman struck by Mark Webber's tire is okay. He suffered some broken ribs, a broken collarbone, and a concussion. After the death of a marshal in Canada, I'm glad Formula 1 isn't adding to their list of track worker fatalities. These men and women working the race assume a significant amount of risk, with a relatively slim slice of the glitz, glamour, and glory pie that F1 brings to town. Red Bull were fined 30,000 Euros for the unsafe release, rightfully so.

Felipe Massa might have cashed his check with Ferrari. He attributed his spinout to his own error, then claimed he couldn't get the car back in gear. This is his latest race-ending incident of the season. He's only scored 12 points in the last 4 races. How interesting will the silly season be if there are open seats at Red Bull AND Ferrari? And with McLaren's struggles, don't rule out there being a vacancy in Woking as well.

This wasn't a typical Vettel yawnfest. He had to sweat for this one. I couldn't help but be reminded of another German driver. One of Michael Schumacher's most impressive attributes was his ability to respond to the gauntlets laid down by his opponents. Vettel did this yesterday. He pushed as hard as he needed to push, when he needed to push, and he never gave Grosjean or Raikonnen an opportunity to pass him. His ability to find that extra tenth of a second when it mattered most was very Schumacherian.

The Hungarian Grand Prix is an agonizing 3 weeks away. Vettel has never won that event. With 3 weeks I'm sure the teams challenging Vettel and Red Bull will have analyzed themselves and there will be more reshuffling from 2nd place back. But not at the front. At this point in F1 history, how can you pick anyone but Vettel to win?

Photo Credits:
AP Photo/Michael Probst
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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