Marko declares Vettel not the same driver 'we know' from early-2010s
Red Bull's Helmut Marko stated that Sebastian Vettel circa 2020 is hardly the same driver as Vettel circa 2013.
At the end of 2013, Vettel was on a high. He had won four consecutive F1 world championships with the extraordinarily successful Red Bull team, and was at the top of the sport as it entered the turbo-hybrid era beginning in 2014.
It would be, however, a 2014 season defined by mediocrity from the sport's youngest champion, as he struggled to get to grips with a new aerodynamic philosophy, and a sub-par RB10 combined with a less powerful Renault powerplant, tested his patience.
A move to Ferrari for 2015 looked promising with early wins providing optimism, but the package was not yet competitive enough to make any meaningful challenge for the world championship that year. The same would prove true of 2016.
With a unique take on the 2017 regulations, the team's performances vastly improved. Vettel was finally able to challenge Mercedes by taking an early lead in the F1 championship, and sticking with the Silver Arrows' until a litany of poor races, including a DNF at Singapore and even a tyre failure in the British GP at the season's mid-point ensured the German and Ferrari be forced to wait for their chance later on in 2018, spurred on by a late-season run of form.
The 2018 F1 season opened better than any prior season for the pairing, beginning with two consecutive wins. These races were followed by results good enough to keep Vettel firmly in contention, and after another win at Silverstone this time around, he led the championship with ten rounds in the rear-view mirror.
This win in Britain was followed by a DNF in Germany after he crashed out of a convincing lead in wet conditions, and having taken a sure win away from Vettel at Hockenheim, the Ferrari driver's close title rival Lewis Hamilton took another win.
Despite another victory for Vettel in Belgium, the season became unrecoverable after he spun in the Italian GP that followed, and subsequently lost a quartet of wins to Hamilton. After Belgium, he wouldn't win another race that season.
His title hopes were quickly dashed in 2019 after a myriad of losses and general underperformance relative to his younger teammate Charles Leclerc saw him lose ground, and his only win that season would come with the Singapore GP, albeit a DNF in Russia cost him another potential victory. Similarly, 2020 has brought about yet worse results for Vettel and Ferrari.
To put it in simple terms, there has been a fall from grace for the German F1 driver. This is to the bewilderment of many, who question how a four-time champion could so quickly become a relatively inconsistent performer.
Speaking on the matter, Red Bull consultant Marko - a close friend - himself was baffled, having worked with Vettel at his peak. "There is a lot of uncertainty, he makes an unusual number of mistakes, time and again," he said when speaking to Ralf Schumacher for Sky Germany last weekend. "You can't deny it.
"He's on average two or three tenths away from Leclerc," Marko added, before explaining that Vettel is a sensitive driver, likely influenced more so than most by a bad environment at Ferrari. "Sebastian is a sensitive person, even though he's been in F1 for so long, this separation really bothered him. This is not the Sebastian we know from our time.
"What we see is nowhere near the Sebastian who won four world titles. He's never had a situation like this, the spiral is going downhill. Sometimes he also makes rookie mistakes, that is certainly a result of the psyche. That shows how important a cold head and a strong mental position is needed in racing.
"At the moment it doesn't work at all," summed up Marko.
The German opens a new chapter of his career with a move to Aston Martin from 2021 F1 season, but there are natural concerns that the environment there could prove no more fruitful, as the team tend to favor the son of the operation's owner, Lance Stroll. "When you hear that all the updates always come first to Stroll and only then to Perez, I hope that they treat Vettel fairly," Marko added as he touched on this point.
[This story was written by me for FormulaRapida and edited by Darshan Chokhani]