Friday, 13 January 2012

2011: The Year of Vettel

I bring my 2011 season review to a close by analysing the World Champion, Sebastian Vettel.

Sebastian Vettel's incredible Formula One season in 2011 may have seemed an easy win, but in fact Vettel drove beautifully, and thoroughly deserved his second straight Formula One World Championship. In this article, I'm going to assess his performances, and discuss a Formula One great.

Sebastian Vettel's qualifying performance this season was just amazing. He took fifteen pole positions, breaking Nigel Mansell's record of most pole positions in a season. For the majority of the races, he never looked like being anywhere but pole. Some of his laps were just sensational, and he only started off of the front row once, in Germany. His best laps were probably Australia, Japan, Italy, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. These laps were devastating, and he made the rest look like amateurs in qualifying. For the past two seasons now, he's been the king of qualifying, and his pace over one lap is up there with the very best of all time.

In 2010, Vettel seemed to struggle a bit with the race starts, getting away badly, even when starting from pole. For most of 2011, this wasn't an issue. In fact, by the first corner of the year, he set the tone for the remaining eighteen races: Vettel has a good lead into the first corner, while Hamilton, Webber, Button and Alonso battled. This was the story of 2011. At Monaco, the shortest lap on the calendar, he led by two and a half seconds at the end of the first lap.  Sometimes he made very good starts as well though, jumping Mark Webber at Silverstone to take the lead. This was just one of the very few things that Vettel massively improved upon in 2011. 

Sebastian Vettel's race wins weren't just calm, controlled and great drives, but the majority of them were extremely dominant. For the races in Australia, Malaysia, Turkey, Europe, Italy, Singapore, Korea and India, no-one looked like getting anywhere near him. Somehow he managed just to blow everyone away, and easily win. The most dominant was probably either Australia or Valencia, where he was just sublime. He was so dominant at times this season it made you want to cry, because no matter how hard anyone tried, they just couldn't catch him.

Vettel's defending from other drivers this year was exceptional. It may have looked like he always had the best car, but at times he really didn't, and this meant he had to defend from people who were quicker. Red Bull's straight line speed was poor throughout 2011, so he was vunerable there. However, he never let it get to him, with Spain, Monaco and Singapore his best examples. In Spain, he had to fend off the charging Lewis Hamilton towards the end to take victory, by just 0.6 seconds after some hard defending from the fast McLaren. In Monaco, his tyres were totally shot, and he was defending lap after lap from Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. Finally, in Singapore, he was leading comfortably, but Vettel had to fend off the fast finishing Jenson Button before he could win, and as expected, he did it well.

People who criticise Vettel say he can't race wheel to wheel. This really couldn't be further from the case: his overtaking this year was phenomenal, just on another level. He made five stand out overtakes this season, two of which featured in my overtakes of the year article. The first is on Jenson Button in
Australia. This wasn't even a necessary move: Vettel would take the lead when Button pitted anyway. However, he still went for a daring move at Turn Four. The next one is also on Jenson Button, at Spain. Anyone who doubts Vettel can overtake needs to watch this lap, where he takes three cars in a lap, with particular emphasis on his lunge up the inside of Button. Third up is his impressive move on Rosberg at Belgium, taking him around the outside of Blanchimont. Next is the move which my readers voted as overtake of the season, his breathtaking move on Fernando Alonso at Italy thoroughly deserved the overtake of the year award. And finally, his pass on Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap of the Korean Grand Prix, very oppurtunistic and on the ball. Still think he can't overtake?

Despite Sebastian Vettel's victory in the 2010 season, his driving was quite erratic at times, and he made lots of mistakes. However, in 2011, it was apparent from the off that he had improved, and was much calmer, and nowhere near as immature. He was very clam, and always just seemed to get on with it, even when the races were difficult. He only made three mistakes to my knowledge: The mistake on the last lap in Canada, the spin in Germany and the run wide in Hungary. Apart from that, he was much calmer, and seemed to enjoy racing much more than he did in 2010, when he just got frustrated whenever something went wrong for him. This so wasn't the case in 2011, when he just maturely strolled to victories, as opposed to causing incidents and making errors.

Sebastian Vettel was incredible this season. He wrote his name into the pantheon of Formula One greats, and the more I watch him, the more I think he is the best in the world.

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