The 2011 season is a stark contrast to that of 2010. Whilst we have seen the same result in terms of the World Championship and Constructors’ Championship winner, the manner of these respective victories could not be more different from one year ago.
If you cast your mind back to 14th November 2010 and the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, four drivers could still mathematically have been crowned World Champion as the cars took to the circuit. As we know, only too well, Sebastian Vettel was victorious in the race and ultimately became the youngest World Champion Formula 1 has ever seen. It is worth remembering that Vettel did not lead the Championship until the final day of the season in 2010 and hence I will not go on to question his fighting spirit but instead, perhaps, his ultimate ‘racing’ ability.
It is very hard to criticise a man who has taken 15 of the 19 available pole positions this season. Only his team mate Mark Webber (3) and Lewis Hamilton (1 – the only non-Red Bull pole position) have lead the German Double World Champion off the lights. Not only is Vettel quick over one lap, but he has converted 9 of his pole positions into race wins, where again one cannot fault his concentration and driving capability when leading from the front.
There is no question that Vettel has been totally dominant this year; clinching the title in Suzuka with 4 races remaining, as well as beating both Nigel Mansell’s records of number of laps lead and pole positions claimed in a single Formula 1 season. However, and as the title of this article suggests, does Vettel have the ability to work outside this set of stringent parameters? The 2011 season has left F1 fans in no doubt that Vettel is a master of ‘switching on’ his Pirelli tyres, pumping in the fastest qualifying lap in the dying seconds of Q3 and once part 1 of the race weekend is complete, part 2 and the race win is an inevitability.
The question, for me, remains: Does Vettel have the racing dynamism to pull off stunning over-taking manoeuvres that we are used to seeing from Jenson Button (his last to first drive in the Canadian Grand Prix, which included passing Sebastian Vettel on the final lap of the race is a case in point) and the tenacious Kamui “Kamikaze” Kobayashi, who always seems to be in the thick of things in the midfield? These are just names of those who have stood out on the grid this season without calling into question the credentials of Schumacher, Alonso and Hamilton, which I will save for a rainy day. I am also not going to get involved with comparing Vettel to legendary racers of yesteryear…not yet anyway; the young German still has a long way to go before those parallels befall him.
The question first arose following the 2010 season where Vettel secured 5 race wins, of which 3 came from pole position. I am tempted to increase that number to 4 pole positions, given that he was 2nd on the grid to Nico Hulkenberg in the Williams following a rain interrupted qualifying session at Interlagos. So, inevitably he went on to pass his fellow country man on the opening lap and ultimately took the chequered flag unchallenged. Similarly in 2011 of his 11 race wins 9 have come from pole. The remaining 2 he started on the front row of the grid and overtook Webber into the first corner in Spain only to be passed by Alonso, who he later dispatched at the first round of pit stops. Additionally, Hamilton suffered a first lap pass in Korea, effectively gifting Vettel the race win.
The point I am making is clear: we are yet to see Vettel fight through the field to take victory in his Adrian Newey designed RB7, which is undoubtedly the quickest car on the grid this year. For all you budding Sebastian Vettel fans out there, before you remind me of his victory for Toro Rosso at Monza in 2008 to become the youngest driver ever to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is no mean feat, lest I remind you that he also did this from pole position.
In sum there is no doubt that the 2011 Formula 1 season has been dominated by Red Bull from start to finish (no pun intended…) but there are topics of note, which make for an exciting 2012. McLaren have proved their ultimate race pace is strong if not the strongest, the introduction of Pirelli tyres has added a new dimension to strategy and the FIA have demonstrated they are honing the use of DRS (which made its debut this season) to continue to spice up racing next year. We have the drama unfolding in the off season with driver line ups; could we see another former World Champion taking to the grid and what surprises does winter testing in February have in store?
I’ll be back to preview the 2012 season but here is some food for thought: Red Bull will not have the 1 second a lap advantage they enjoyed over their competitors at the start of this year and Mercedes are going to be a surprise package with the best KERS system in F1 – could we see a different German dominating F1 next year and, no, I don’t mean Mr Schumacher.