Thursday, 26 September 2013

Sebastian Vettel - Villain?

There was very little talk about the Singapore Grand Prix immediately following the race. In a season of Sebastian Vettel dominance, even his greatest performance yet went seemingly unnoticed. From Saturday morning, those watching the remainder of the weekend were looking forward to the race for second position. Nico Rosberg was the closest to derailing the Vettel train, both in the final moments of qualifying and at the race start. On both occasions it was the unfazed Vettel who remained leading the field, and carried on hoping that no one had seen the slight chink in the armour.

Now leading the world championship by 60 points it looks increasingly like Vettel will be winning his 4th consecutive title, a feat matched only by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. It is clear that in 20 years we will be comparing his name amongst the greats on message boards arguing over the greatest driver in Formula 1 history. The only doubt that remains is the number of championships he will win throughout the remainder of his career, along with the other numbers and statistics that Vettel craves. So if we as the motorsport fans are witnessing one of Formula One's greatest drivers in his prime, then why is he subject to such intense booing throughout his podium celebrations?

The reasoning behind the booing changes depending on who you talk to. Some point blame at his domination which to some makes F1 boring these days, others to the incident in Malaysia earlier this year and his treatment within Red Bull Racing. Others will simply just join in with atmosphere around the podium regardless of personal belief on the young German. I feel it would all stop with 1 change though - who he is driving for.

I watched Formula One through the Schuamcher years, domination again at the pinnacle of motorsport. A younger me didn't fully appreciate what I was watching at the time, it was just boring watching the same driver win every race and of course doing so for Ferrari. The difference was that everytime he took to the top step of the podium for his well practiced Schumacher leap, there were only resonations of cheering, screams and air horns from the crowd. There were anomalies to this trend, only when he had only himself to blame though for one of the many controversies throughout his career. Had he driven for another team though? I would be much happier watching all of those "boring" races back again in full had Schumacher been winning for McLaren. I'm sure the Tifosi would be booing their own displeasure each time however, resoundingly so following those large controversies.

This is the scenario we are seeing now with Sebastian Vettel, in that he is simply winning for the wrong team. Red Bull Racing are not a team rich in history but they do still have a large fan base with their attitude of bringing talent through their young driver programme, and the fun party atmosphere outside the working hours. On race day however it is clear where the majority of support resides, with Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus (well, Kimi Raikkonen in particular) well represented.

The way the Ferrari team operate, it would be very hipocritical for them to boo Vettel simply for the way in which he leads the team. It would also be difficult for them to boo based on domination, having enjoyed their own stint at the summit. It is simply difficult to cope with a driver / team being faster than the beloved Ferrari's. McLaren have had their share of controversies, but have always had 2 equals within the team until mathematically impossible for one to win the championship. When Fernando Alonso now infamously blocked Lewis Hamilton during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2007, even the teams own fans turned against him for what he had done to the team, a feeling that remained throughout the remainder of the season and beyond. And in Kimi Raikkonen, we have a driver who has never been afraid to speak his mind and let feelings be known. He is not a man of many words, but his on track actions and party style have endeared him to so many.

Everyone seems to have their own issue with the young man, and in sheer numbers they express that in the most vocal of ways. Sebastian Vettel and the rest of the team are often asked why this might be and the answer never concentrates on the reasoning behind it, instead highlighting the German's competitive nature, desire to be the most successful driver in the history of Formula One, and his relationship within the team and with the sponsors. This is where being popular with colleagues affects performance, with the team adding that the booing he gets just fuels him to try harder to maintain his current momentum. The boo's will not slow him down, or force him out of the sport. Nor will they affect his value in the market place if another team wanted to lure him away from the formidable Red Bull Racing setup, and the fickle fans of his new team would soon forget the young man making Formula 1 boring because their team was losing.

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari's years at the top came to an end abruptly in 2005, and when he retired all of the controversies were suddenly small dents in an otherwise perfect career. The most successful driver in the history of the sport was remembered for the right reasons, and not his popularity or the sound of boo's he received standing on the podium at "those" races. It can only be hoped that the brilliance being witnessed currently by Sebastian Vettel is remembered for the same reasons, with the neutral fans hoping that time comes soon.