Ocotber 21st, 2012 (F1plus / Jacob Polychronis).- Sebastian Vettel’s win in Yeongam was one for the purists. No thrills, no spills, just a controlled performance from lights to flag. The win sees the German claim the championship lead by a mere 6 points with only 1/5 of the season remaining. This places him on the brink of becoming only the third driver in Formula One history to win a hat-trick of drivers’ championships.
The title of ‘world champion’ is currently reserved for 32 drivers of the past and present. To win a championship in any sport is a tremendous achievement and incredibly honourable. Each of these 32 drivers displayed supremacy above their counterparts in their respective seasons and can therefore consider themselves greats of the sport.
Those that can consider themselves greater and more formidable figures in the history of Formula One are those who have won back-to-back titles. While winning a championship is certainly no easy feat, it is defending a title which is considered to be the more difficult yet rewarding task. Dual World Championship winner of ’98 and ’99, Mika Häkkinen, drew on his personal experiences to explain the differences of defending a title in comparison to winning it initially, saying;
“There wasn’t a moment to breathe or have any time off (in the off-season). We began 1999 and thought, ‘Okay, here we go again.’ It was a different feeling to start fighting for the title as a defending champion. It was actually more difficult in 1999 because it’s a totally different feeling when you’re trying to defend a title. It feels like there’s more pressure on your shoulders – you are the target. Immediately people expect you to win-”
Statistics support Häkkinen’s thoughts on defending a title because out of 32 world champions, only 9 have successfully retained titles.
Difficulty seems to be the recurring theme when discussing the possibility of winning a hat-trick of titles. Difficulty and also failure. When it comes to the hat-trick there are no general rules or many sentiments from past drivers to reflect on. The fact of the matter is that it rarely happens.
Out of the past 9 drivers to win –back-to-back titles, only 2 have gone on to claim the hat-trick. At the start of the season, this was a statistic which was disheartening to ambitious Vettel fans and subsequently, many would have approached the season with partially subdued enthusiasm. Now however, many would not blame Vettel fans to raise their hopes as he is poised to create more history.
The remaining tracks on the F1 calendar are arguably all tailored to the RB8 instead of Fernando Alonso’s F2012. With the exception of Interlagos, the remaining tracks are all Herman Tilke designed tracks. These all share a predominately windy and niggly nature we have come to expect from Tilke designs and thus suits cars with superior aerodynamic grip. Recent history shows that we can expect impressive results in the remaining races from Red Bull.
The Milton Keynes outfit has won every Brazilian Grand Prix since 2009, claimed the inaugural Indian Grand Prix last year and has won 2/3 Abu Dhabi Grands Prix. One would not blame Vettel to be rubbing his hands together with a smug grin at the moment.
It is not only his machine and the tracks which play into Vettel’s hands, however, the 25 year olds ability and determination also holds him in good stead. This is something which Red Bull team principle Christian Horner would agree with, stating “There’s a quality within him that keeps him pushing; he’s very, very driven - Sebastian has tremendous natural speed and intelligence within the car. He has the ability to think and adapt to many situations.”
If you haven’t done so already, it is time to start honestly contemplating if Vettel is one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. Up until now, rational thinkers would have questioned those who prematurely started to place him up with the greats such as Schumacher. His 2010 world title came with a few immature, clumsy performances and 2011 was simply unfair as the RB7 was the ultimate in the field. It is now in 2012, with a far more level playing field, that Vettel has been forced to find an extra gear and really prove he is not just a fantastic driver, but one of the best of all time.
Michael Schumacher won his 2002 championship in France with six races to go.
The only two drivers to have ever completed a hat-trick of world titles are Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Even Schumacher failed on his first attempt to claim a hat-trick of titles, falling short to Damon Hill and his FW18 in 1996. When you consider this, only 1 driver has successfully achieved the accolade when in the same position as Vettel currently is. At the risk of belittling an icon, it would be far more of an achievement for Vettel to win the three titles then what it was for Fangio.
Fangio claimed the hat-trick almost 50 years ago when the sport was held under far more modest and simplistic circumstances compared to today. For example, in 1956 the year of Fangio’s hat-trick title, there were a total of 8 races, one being Indianapolis 500 which was traditionally not competed in by those participating in the European races of the calendar. Moreover, there were only 4 other drivers which competed in all of the other 7 races.
Vettel on the other hand is battling it out over 20 races in a field of 24. Now that things have been placed into perspective; should Vettel reign victorious on the 25th of November in São Paolo, it will truly be one of the most momentous sporting achievements seen. No one would be blamed to call him one of the best drivers of all time.