Last year Ferrari (NYSE:RACE) and Sebastian Vettel emerged as F1 most potent force. This season, Ferrari is closer, maybe even the strongest of them all as a package.
Ferrari’s lead driver Mr. Vettel is far and away the most successful graduate from Red Bull’s young driver program. With 4 championships. 51 wins. 106 podiums. 55 pole positions.
“When I was growing up and coming through different categories, it wasn’t until very late that I was convinced I could have a successful career in racing,” he told Formula1.com.
“You just focus on what you’re doing at the time. Every single step. The target was to reach F1, but still, even when I reached F1, I wasn’t convinced. After a couple of years and winning some races, then you realise you have a career. But before that, I never really liked to call it a career.”
He says Michael Schumacher was a role model for him.
“Sebastian understood from Michael that the ingredients to become a successful driver are not just down to what you do in the car.”
Franz Tost, Mr. Vettel’s boss at Toro Rosso, said: “Sebastian understands that getting a team together and keeping a high level of motivation is decisive for success.”
“Many times people confuse the fact I joined Ferrari as me trying to do something similar to Michael,” he says. “If we can go anywhere near what Michael achieved that would be a great success but times have changed and what lies behind us is not really what should drive us in the future.”
He has yet to match Mr. Schumacher’s triumphs, he has successfully motivated The Scuderia. He plays it down, though.
“A driver’s role outside of the team is quite important,” he says. “I’m not trying to stand out, I’m just trying to be one of the guys, one of the team, trying to help the team win.”
Mr. Vettel has the balance just right.
“He spends time with mechanics,” he says. “But it’s how you communicate. It’s not necessary to say OK, we go now every evening for a lunch or dinner. Coming in every morning, greeting the mechanics, saying thank you after the race – he knows how to deal with this.”
Ferrari is the dream for most F1 drivers, but few successfully deal with the pressure of such an opportunity.
Mr. Vettel is not one of them, it has only enhanced him. “He’s a much more rounded driver. He was still very young when he won those four world championships. Having a few character building years at Ferrari have made him more rounded. He’s very good under pressure. He’s very much a rock within that team. If he gets a sniff of a chance after the summer break, he’ll be very difficult to beat,” says Red Bull Racing’s Christian Hornet.
Mr. Vettel’s weakness is his tendency to let the Red mist descend when on track.
There was the outburst directed at FIA F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting during the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix. Then there was his clash with Lewis Hamilton when behind the Safety Car in Baku last year. On other occasions, he’s made mistakes such as the attempted pass on Mr. Bottas at the restart in Baku this year, which cost him the win.
“Every sport is the same. If you want to achieve something great, if you want to climb to the top of the mountain, you have to risk something. Sometimes it doesn’t work, other times it will work. Remember how many crashes Michael [Schumacher] had? Remember back Senna, how many crashes he had. Also Hamilton crashed sometimes. This is what makes the difference between the Top drivers and other drivers.”
Mr. Vettel is pretty happy with the way he goes racing.
“Your approach has to change on the fly so clearly you know what you have to do after so many years and so many races, but still every race and every day is different so you have to react on the fly and trust your preparation but also trust your instincts,” he says. “Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re not. That is what happens in life.”
Focus is what Mr. Vettel needs now, as he looks to claw back a 24-point deficit to Mr. Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.
Expect Mr. Vettel will come back from the Summer break fit and fighting.
Spa and Monza are 2 tracks which should suit him and his SF71-H to a tee. Win both of those and the gap is down to at worst 10 points and at best, or he could be back in the lead.