Did Germany 2018 Change Vettel As a Driver?
It seems he has not been the same since.
Sebastian Vettel crashed at his home Grand Prix in Germany at the Hockenheimring. This crash seemingly did not just cost him a win but also the chance at his fifth world title. Most notably, this seemed to be where Vettel changed as a driver.
The race was a significant moment within the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship. The whole weekend was crucial. In qualifying, fans (including me) believed it was the end of Hamilton's bid for the title as he has a hydraulic issue in Q2, meaning he started 14th. It ended up being a turning point as Vettel put himself in the gravel.
After this race, Vettel differed from competing toe-to-toe with Hamilton. The first half of the season, it had been neck and neck with Mercedes and Ferrari. But the crash in the gravel seemed to end this.
Vettel seemingly lost some confidence in himself as a driver. His next and last win of the season came in Belgium, Spa. But he then failed to win until Singapore in 2019. (Obviously, he should have won in Canada 2019).
Quickly after Germany, Kimi Raikkonen started outperforming Vettel on many different occasions. The biggest one came at Monza when Raikkonen took pole position and beat him in the race as Raikkonen finished 2nd. When Vettel spun after clashing with Hamilton, it meant the win was gone. It became quickly noticeable Vettel was not the driver he used to be.
The 2018 Singapore Grand Prix saw something unexpected. That track was pretty much Ferrari's win for the taking. Until Vettel made a mistake in free practice two, which meant he was not as prepared for qualifying and the race as he typically would.
Instead, Hamilton produced a special lap and took the race from Ferrari. When we were all knew Mercedes should have never won or had the pole position.
Hamilton ate up the rest of the 2018 season to claim title number five, of now seven. But if you looked at the statistics during 2018, the whole story was not there.
Now we can talk all about how Germany affected him. It will never be known to us if this was the race that changed him. But what can be confirmed is Charles Leclerc, as a teammate, changed him.
The 2019 season was really when Vettel's driving seemed not the same. He was convincingly beat by Leclerc throughout the whole season and then the same again in 2020.
But this was not the first time this happened to Vettel. Look at his final season at Red Bull Vettel was beaten by Daniel Ricciardo. So it had occurred once before. However, it didn't trigger Vettel to become worse.
Leclerc stunned us all with how well he did. Vettel, in comparison, was underwhelming. The loss to his teammate seemed to hit him, as explained. Ferrari then favoured Leclerc. Which likely played into why he declined.
Now Vettel seems on track a shell of the driver he once was. Vettel still will have skills and so much talent. But we need to see it. We, as fans, want to see it. It is has nothing to do with age look at Hamilton and Schumacher, they got better and better as they aged. So it feels like that cannot be the reason for this downfall.
It feels Germany affected him. But so did Leclerc as his teammate. As suddenly, Vettel was not number 1 and not winning as much as Leclerc was.
Even now, while at Aston Martin, Vettel still does not seem the same. He is yet to score points this season. Whereas teammate Lance Stroll has scored points in the few races we have had. But analysing his time at Aston isn't something to do yet because there have been three races.
Is Vettel the same driver he once was? No. Honestly, I would love him to be because he was one brilliant driver in his prime. He is a driver that needs to be able to fight in the midfield. Especially, when there are drivers like Fernando Alonso and Ricciardo racing in the midfield.
F1 is also all psychological, I am not qualified to talk about that. But mind games always occur in F1, and the effect a single race will have can be big. It is well known when competing for a title there will be a mental battle, it seemed the likes of Germany 2018 and Canada 2019 have partly destroyed him psychologically as a driver.
But hopefully, this season develops positively for Vettel and we see some brilliant battles.