The anniversary of Vettel's 4th world title
Last week marked the 7th anniversary of Sebastian Vettel’s most recent F1 title which he secured with three rounds to spare, but how did he do it?
But first, who were the drivers standing in his way of joining the sport's most elite club?
The 2013 championship contenders
The contenders for the title at the start of the season were: Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes.
Sebastian Vettel entered his 5th season with Red Bull Racing alongside team-mate/bitter rival Mark Webber once more. At Ferrari, the line-up was also unchanged with the Fernando Alonso partnering Felipe Massa for a 4th season. Lotus Renault retained both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean from the previous season. The biggest change, however, was at Mercedes where Lewis Hamilton joined the team after 6 seasons with McLaren. This caused a seismic shock to the F1 paddock as Hamilton had been associated with McLaren since he was just 13 years old. Hamilton's relationship with McLaren was pivotal in turning his F1 dream into a reality. The Briton teamed up with his old karting rival Nico Rosberg who had been with the team since it re-entered the sport as a full works manfacturer in 2010.
A key focus point at the beginning of the campaign was the surprising uncompetitiveness of McLaren, as their precedessor had become argubaly the fastest car at the end of 2012 as they won the final two races of the season. Rather than continuing the development of the MP4-27, the new MP4-28 had been completely re-designed and this had disastrous consequences for the team. 2013 became their worst season in 33 years as the team failed to score a single podium finish.
How did he take his 4th crown?
Three key factors led to Vettel taking his 4th consecutive F1 world title:
Vettel did not have it all his own way at the beginning of the campaign, but he ensured that he maximised the potential of the car each weekend to minimise the points loss to his rivals. This was apparent at the Chinese and Spanish GPs where he was forced to settle for P4 on both occasions. However, they turned out to be the only two Grand Prix where Vettel finished outside of the top 3 all season. It would be the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso who won them, with Kimi Raikkonen taking the runner-up position in both.
Alternatively, in the other Grand Prix where Vettel did not win, he was beaten by his rivals who utilised a better race strategy. In the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Vettel started on pole position. However, the German ultimately finished P3 after being jumped by Alonso in the pitstops and a superior strategy by race winner Kimi Raikkonen, who made one less stop than his rivals. Although, he was able to utilise race strategy to his advantage at the Monaco GP which enabled him to finish P2, splitting the two Mercedes after passing Lewis Hamilton through the pitstops by running a longer first stint which gave him clear air to set quick, consistent laps.
Unlike previous seasons, 2010 and 2012 in particular, he did not make any errors which led to any race retirements. He only failed to finish at one race which was the British Grand Prix; where he was leading until he forced to stop due to a gearbox failure.
The most impressive race of the season for Vettel was at the Nurburgring, his home Grand Prix. Coming into that weekend, Vettel was still seeking his first F1 victory in his native country. What was remarkable about this particular win was that fact that Vettel withstood intense pressure from both Lotus drivers, but particularly Kimi Raikkonen, who could not pass Vettel even on fresher tyres.
In the first 10 races of the season, Vettel won 4 Grand Prix and took 7 podiums in total. Here's how the championship standings looked like at the half-way stage of the season prior to the summer break:
1) Vettel: 172 points
2) Raikkonen: 134 points
3) Alonso: 133 points
4) Hamilton: 124 points
5) Webber: 105 points
Vettel showed in 2013 that he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals, regardless of what the consequences may be. His single-mindnesses as a driver was on full display at the Malaysian Grand Prix . The German's actions at this Grand Prix was one of the most significant talking points throughout the season.
It was round 2 of the season and Vettel was desperate to respond in what was looking like a very competitive season. He entered the weekend with a 10 point deficit to Raikkonen, and so the pressure was already on. This Grand Prix proved to be the final nail in the coffin for his relationship with Mark Webber after the infamous ‘multi 2-1’ radio message. Vettel qualified on pole and held the lead despite the best efforts of Alonso, who damaged his front wing by hitting the rear of Vettel’s car. This ultimately caused him to lose control of his car, putting him out of contention. This left Vettel and Webber to do battle. Vettel stopped first, but struggled to get his tyres up to temperature on a drying track. Meanwhile Webber stayed out and set a series of fastest laps which enabled him to emerged from the pitlane with the lead. Webber held the lead, but came under fire from Vettel at the end of the race, despite being informed by race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin to hold position ‘multi 2-1’ and allow Webber to win the race. He took matters into his own hands and went wheel-to-wheel with his team-mate before finally making the pass stick at turn 4 on lap 46, and went on to win the race. Perhaps Vettel went against calls from his engineer and team boss Christian Horner because he knew from the experience of 2010 that every point counts in the title race. It must also be said that wins in Formula One are very hard to come by, and so Sebastian had it in his mind that was not going to let this one slip through his hands. The most likely reason for disobeying the team orders was to get his own back on Webber, who made life more difficult than it should have been at the title deciding race the previous year.
However, his conduct during this race was unacceptable; no one driver is bigger than the team. He should have obeyed team orders, like Webber reluctantly did at Silverstone in 2011. While this scenario was very damaging for Red Bull, they had to move on from it quickly as the next round of the season fast approached.
When Formula One returned from the summer break, Vettel displayed dominance that was reminiscent of Michael Schumacher in the early 2000's. He won 9 consecutive Grand Prix from the Belgian GP to the Brazilian GP, which was a new F1 record for consecutive wins in a single season. He took 13 wins in total, which matched the record set by Schumacher back in 2004. He completed the season with 397 points, a stunning 155 points clear of runner-up Fernando Alonso. Vettel secured the championship with three rounds to spare by winning the India Grand Prix. Vettel's dominance and the support of Mark Webber enabled Red Bull Racing to also take their 4th consecutive constructors' world championship. The team finished the season with 596 points, 236 points clear of closest challengers Mercedes.
The level of dominance of Vettel is 2013 was stunning, and despite having a very competitive car, it was anything but easy for him. While it is accepted that team-mate Mark Webber was perhaps past his prime and became disenchanted with the sport following the Malaysia GP. However, he still faced intense competition from the likes of Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton, particularly in the early stages of the year.
To win the Formula One World Championship, you must have the best car which is exactly what Vettel had that year, and he used it fully to his advantage. While Vettel has had a difficult time in recent seasons at Ferrari, his achievements with Red Bull are remarkable. At the age of 26, he was a 4-time world champion, matching the great Alain Prost and only had Fangio's 5 and Schumacher's 7 titles records ahead of him. This level of success has sealed his place in the history books as one of the sport's all-time greats.