Sebastian Vettel is a fan favourite on the F1 grid; everyone loves his sense of humour as well as his ability to pounce on his rivals at the perfect time. However, Sebastian's perception of 'the perfect time' seems to be slowly drifting away from him. Over the last three seasons, we have seen mistakes from the German that are starting to make Ferrari fans lose faith in their number-one driver.
Vettel is a phenomenal driver - he has 4 world titles to his name, and all were achieved by the time he had hit the age of 26. The Ferrari driver's race craft is very unique, and he has proven his ability in many wheel-to-wheel battles over his 12 year career.
Furthermore, Vettel is the number-one driver at Ferrari that is not only meant to be fighting for the world championship; but also meant to be a role model for his younger teammate, Charles Leclerc - who outscored him by 24 points in the 2019 season (Leclerc's debut season for Ferrari).
But that last fact is the start of what is a bigger problem. The last couple of seasons have been a turning point in the German's career. Spinning out on multiple occasions started to make the world wonder if Vettel was 'losing his touch'. The once rebellious youngster that disobeyed team orders and squeezed his way past a fuming Mark Webber at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix now seems totally different - he has lost the confidemce when going wheel-to-wheel.
When did this start?
I feel that the real turning point of Sebastian Vettel's career was at Singapore 2017 - a race which went horribly wrong for Ferrari moments after the lights went out. Vettel tried to squeeze Red Bull's Max Verstappen as they headed into Turn 1, but failed to give room for his teammate that had already drawn alongside the Dutch driver. The three made contact and it was Kimi Raikonnen that was sent into a spin. Kimi then collected Verstappen at the first corner and the pair both had to retire. Vettel continued through sector one before spinning in his own engine fluid that was a result of the damage, putting him out of the race.
This was the moment that Vettel's championship hopes started to fizzle away from him. The Ferrari team were meant to take advantage of their 1-3 starting order; while Lewis Hamilton started back in P5. This was not the case as Hamilton took the lead by Turn 3, and won the race 2 hours later. The points difference between the Mercedes driver and himself grew by another 25 points, which was crucial with 6 races to go. The gap got bigger as races were ticked off, until Hamilton eventually won the championship.
Fastforward to 2018 and Vettel hadn't come back with a totally new mindset. The pace of the Ferrari seemed to be there, but errors in Ferrari strategy, a couple of mistakes by himself, some reliability issues and the outright speed of the Mercedes caused a year that couldn't match performance in 2017. Mistakes became more common, spinning his car on Lap 1 at Monza; as well as spinning after contact with Verstappen at Suzuka and Ricciardo at the Circuit of the Americas. But the lowest of the lows was when he crashed out of the lead at Germany in the wet conditions, which seemed to affect Sebastian a lot more than his previous errors.
2019 was a slightly better year for the German, but pressure started to build up. Kimi Raikonnen left Ferrari to join Alfa Romeo; and the young Charles Leclerc took his place. The difference between 2018 and 2019 was that priority was cut down from Sebastian's possession. Vettel was the clear 'number one' when Kimi was his teammate due to consistently being higher up in the standings. Charles Leclerc (who was very quick in his debut year at Alfa Romeo Sauber) was given priority sometimes as Ferrari started to take the Red Bull approach of caring for younger drivers. This meant that Vettel was no longer the 'clear number one'.
As the pressure built up, errors once again became more frequent. A spin at Bahrain resulted in a P5 finish, which was a recovery drive after falling to P8. Later in the season he made a mistake at Canada where he cut a corner and got a controversial 5-second penalty, which stole a win from him and ultimately 'fall out of love with F1'. Some more bad luck, and only one win in 2019 resulted in the somewhat 'broken' Sebastian Vettel we have now. I believe Vettel has only recently fallen in love with the sport again.
What can Sebastian do to get back on form?
Many people argue that he has started to lose form after becoming a father. Sebastian's girlfriend at the time had a child in 2014 and 2015, as well as the pair getting married in early 2019; before having their third child as recently as November 2019. Sebastian's last world championship was in the 2013 season, and the 2014 season was another example of him being beaten by his teammate. This is evidence that Vettel's focus on family may be a contributing factor. Relationships often affect Formula One drivers; the solution is difficult and you need to strike a balance between caring about family, and being comitted to the sport. Lewis Hamilton is another example of a driver who lost form for a while - however, this was after a breakup.
If we rewind back to the end of 2018, we were having similar conversations about Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas. The Finn is currently on much shorter contracts with Mercedes as they are monitoring his performance; but a win-less 2018 made the media talk about the danger of losing his seat to a driver such as Esteban Ocon.
Valtteri Bottas went away and focused on his mind over the Christmas holidays a year ago - where he admitted he spent a lot of time doing other activities to get away from the pressures of Formula One. Maybe this is an approach that Vettel needs to take to get back on track. Maybe he needs to work on his mental health over the next couple of months to get him back into the championship winning mindset.
In the case of Valtteri Bottas, he was able to come back into 2019 stronger than ever - winning in Melbourne and winning on other occasions throughout the year. This was also the birth of the now-famous quote, "To those whom it may concern, f*ck you!" in order to prove the media wrong. Sebastian Vettel could replicate this.
As I said before, Sebastian Vettel is a fantastic driver. He is a character that not only improves the quality of racing, but also has a sense of humour that everybody appreciates. With the media constantly spreading rumours of his possible retirement at the end of the 2020 season (due to his contract expiring), I can see why the pressure is building up on the 32 year old. The introduction of his younger teammate also isn't helping Vettel, and I believe that Ferrari need to do more to make Sebastian more confident again.
I would be disappointed if Sebastian were to hang up his helmet at the end of the season and call it a day. Vettel has proven himself as a brilliant driver and I think that he has the chance at winning another championship if he can pull himself out of this difficult mental state. Only time will tell...
What do you think about Sebastian Vettel and his current situation? Let me know in the comments below.
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