This weekend Sebastian Vettel wrapped up his fourth world title in India, putting the final tedious nail in the soporific coffin that was the almost entirely dreary two-thousand-and-boring Formula Boring World Boring Championship.
It hasn’t exactly been a vintage season at the head of the field, with a second half of the season worryingly reminiscent of the Schumacher/Ferrari era and a sense of crushing inevitability before the cars have even turned a wheel on Friday. Vettel on pole, Vettel with a 2.5 second margin before the end of lap one, Vettel cruises to victory in by far and away the best car on the grid, Vettel celebrates far too enthusiastically, waves finger, gets booed on the podium. Snore.
There’s no doubt that, all cars being more or less equal, Vettel would be there with Alonso, Hamilton and Kimi fighting for race wins and championships, but with such technological superiority and a long-checked out team mate he’s simply cruising to wins and titles and boring everyone to tears in a car that no one can touch.
But I digress…
Now that he’s won four world championships, Christian Horner is doing his annual insistence that Vettel is now One Of The Greats (trademark FOM 2013). While there is no denying that his record puts him in the company of men who fit that description, does he actually belong in the entirely subjective category of ‘great’ that sits outside the simple classification of driver by results? No.
The championships won by those in the ‘three and more’ league that marks out the truly special F1 champions of Schumacher (seven), Fangio (five), Prost (four), Senna, Brabham, Lauda, Piquet and Stewart (all on three) differ from those won by Sebastian in a couple of key ways.
1. Every one of them has had gaps between championships, and all (apart from Senna);
2. Have won titles with more than one team.
Ayrton would have done, had he not been killed in 1994, of that there is no doubt.
Why is that important though? It’s important because it puts luck and good timing beyond the championship. It marks out the drivers that haven’t simply found themselves in the best car during a team’s purple patch and made it work.
Vettel’s four titles have all been won in a car designed by one brilliant man over four years of remarkably stable technical regulations. Every title is a deserved title – you don’t win a championship on luck alone, but if Sebastian Vettel really wants to be considered a great of the sport, he’s got to lose for a while.
He has to have the balls to step out of his cosy little Red Bull world and take his chance elsewhere. Like Schumacher, like Senna, like Hamilton even. He’s going to have to fight for it, like Alonso or Lauda. Vettel has never had to scrap. He walked out of Toro Rosso in 2008, into a title challenger, has been in one ever since and only missed out on one championship out of five.
Until he fights, until he shows he can do what Alonso can do and drag a car into places it has no right to be, until he takes a chance he’ll be a four, five, six or seven time champion; but not a great.