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By winning the Indian Grand Prix in impressive fashion, Sebastian Vettel completed a magnificent sporting achievement, winning his fourth consecutive Formula 1 World title. Four world titles is an immense feat in any sport, let alone completing these all back to back and even more impressively, by someone only 26 years of age. Like any sporting achievement this has lead to much debate, many questioning whether Vettel should be considered an all-time great and also whether there is anyone who’ll be able to stop him from clinching a fifth consecutive championship next season.
Four back-to-back titles in what is clearly an extremely technical and physically demanding sport is obviously an achievement of the highest calibre, but the technologically dependant side of the sport has raised many questions over how great Vettel himself has been throughout his dominance in Formula 1. Does he consistently better his opponents because of his skill as a driver, or because his car is significantly better? Unsurprisingly there’s an element of both, as there ought be in order to attain such an achievement, but recognition of Vettel’s quality is unanimous around those involved in the sport. Also, the technological aspect of the sport does not decrease the need for skill from the driver, but acquires the use of somewhat different skills.
Strategy and tactics are becoming an ever more complicated area of the sport, with much pre-race analysis being dedicated to which drivers and teams will deploy the most successful tyre and pit-stop strategies. One of Red Bull’s technical successes over other teams this year has been the way in which exhaust gases have been used to provide downforce, and this is something which Vettel has used to perfection.
Vettel’s dominance over his team-mate Mark Webber is in theory, proof that the quality of the car does not simply formulate the leaderboard; during Vettel’s four title wins Webber has never achieved higher than third and has consistently struggled compared to his partner. The likely reason for this dominance is that Red Bull and Vettel compliment each other, Vettel is young and constantly developing as a driver and by having more flexibility in how he drives, suits the constantly advancing car.
Perhaps if someone who was considered a more gifted driver than Webber (such as Lewis Hamilton) were driving for Red Bull, this may be a different story. Nonetheless, one can only perform with the tools at their disposal.
Achievement always leads to public debate over how much of an achievement said feat genuinely is. Vettel isn’t the most charismatic of sporting figures, so instant comparisons against F1 legends can often be undeserved, but on paper his achievements are quite astounding.
Only 3 other drivers have ever achieved four or more championship victories, let alone in successive seasons. Prost, Fangio and Schumacher have all won four titles, and only the latter pair have done it consecutive seasons. Not only this, but these are all drivers who were significantly older than Vettel when doing so, and unlike Vettel have no further opportunity to extend their records. Perhaps the best reason not to declare Vettel a legend now, is due to the possibility of him partaking in even greater achievements further along in his career.
It is very possible that four consecutive title wins will become five or six, but are there any major threats to stop Vettel from doing so? Many have accused the sport of being boring in recent years due to the predictability of results, such has been Vettel’s form and the lack of a fierce enough rival.
In previous years F1 has seen fierce rivalries between the likes of Niki Lauda and James Hunt, and Alain Prost and Airton Senna, but recent years have not provided anything comparable. Maybe the quality of Vettel and his car is too great to allow for close competition, but not necessarily. The constant changing of team line-ups could provide Vettel with new challenges and a genuine contender.
The quality of the Red Bull is undoubted, hence threat could come from within his own team due to the arrival of Torro Rosso’s promising Daniel Riccardio. A challenge could even possibly come from previous champion Kimi Raikkonen, who has excelled at Lotus, but will start next year with a more developed team at Ferarri. The other likely threat to Vettel’s hopes next year is Lewis Hamilton, who surprised many with the form he has gained so quickly in a new car at Mercedes.
At still only 26, in magnificent form and supported by Red Bull who look likely to win the constructors championship again, Sebastian Vettel looks unlikely to stop winning any time soon.