Formula 1: A wild sky striker with a flaw

Young, wild, successful – that’s how Sebastian Vettel started in Formula 1 in 2006. After a quick promotion to Red Bull, he dominated the top motorsport class for years. However, he does not win the hearts of all fans. A big dream remains unfulfilled.

In 2006, at the 1st practice session in Turkey, it became obvious that a noble talent was pushing hard into Formula 1. The only 19-year-old Sebastian Vettel gets the chance to gain F1 experience in a Friday practice session with Team BMW Sauber. And lo and behold: the youngster set a sensational best time on the first day – in front of legends like Michael Schumacher. At the same time, he also gets the fastest penalty ever because he is too fast in the pit lane. So Vettel is a record man from the start.

Vettel has to wait another year for his first race in the motorsport premier class. In 2007, Robert Kubica crashed violently in the BMW Sauber in Canada. Vettel is allowed to act as a reserve driver and prove himself in Indianapolis. Result: He finishes eighth in the points – at that time as the youngest driver in F1 history. At least now it’s clear: This is a potential star. Red Bull strikes, putting the 20-year-old in the car of sister team Toro Rosso from the Hungarian race.

The bang of Monza

Both racing teams are not yet established, but are aiming for the top. While Vettel has to drive an old racer in the first five races of 2008, his first full season, the first successes come from Monaco. The breakthrough then comes in September in Monza. It is the hour of birth of the “rain god” Vettel.

In his defeated Toro Rosso, he races to the team’s first ever pole position in the rain. The next day in the race he only has a very small chance of staying up front. In the rain in Italy, however, Vettel defended the lead adamantly and took the first win – again as the youngest driver in history at that point in time. For the first time, millions see Vettel’s cheering finger and his characteristic smile in front of the TV sets.

Vettel pulls off a real coup, as Toro Rosso celebrates its first pole and a win ahead of sister team Red Bull. The Vettel hype is awakening and growing. He is “The next big thing”. The promotion to the A-Team is the logical consequence. So there he is, blessed with talent, will and ambition – in a car that has the potential to regularly finish on the podium. In 2009, this always works, but Ross Brawn and his ingenious double diffuser idea make Red Bull and Co. look old. Jenson Button secures title for Brawn GP with one race remaining. Vettel will be second.

The crazy finale of 2010 opens a new era

But now his time has come. He crosses the threshold to become a superstar. Because in 2010 he achieved the unbelievable: only after the very last race did he lead the overall World Championship rankings for the first time. Exactly when it matters. “Crunchtime Vettel” enters the stage. The finale in Abu Dhabi is one of the most exciting in Formula 1 history. Vettel is a full 15 points behind leader and favorite Fernando Alonso and seven behind teammate Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton also still has title chances. But it all looks like a Ferrari party.

But it turns out differently. Vettel starts from pole, dominates the race from the front. Safety car phases destroy the strategy of the other teams, especially Ferrari. Alonso is stuck behind Russia’s Vitaly Petrov. No matter what he tries, he rolls off the Renault man. Missed so they sorely needed counter. Vettel is the first to cross the finish line. On the radio he is informed about the final act. “Good job but we have to wait. Hamilton P2, Button P3, Rosberg P4, Kubica P5.” Vettel is shaking in the car. Then the legendary sentence in German: “You are world champion”.

Vettel can hardly believe it, throws his arms in front of his helmet and sobs barely audibly. “Thanks guys. Unbelievable.” Vettel sets another record – at 23, he is the youngest world champion in history. Unmatched to this day.

Brutal dominance

It’s the beginning of the Vettel era. It is characterized by dominance, by a brutally strong bull car. The RB6 to RB9 are extraordinary cars, real weapons. The V8 racers with Renault drives are always the fastest or among the fastest in the field. Also thanks to his team and brilliant engineers like Adrian Newey, Vettel is at the top four times.

In 2011 there is no need for a heart-stopping finale, Vettel is leading the championship standings after every race. But 2012 is a small revival of the first title. In the last race in Brazil, he not only started from a bad position (fourth), but also spun right at the beginning. From the very back he plows past friend and foe in a slalom. “Clutch Vettel” is back. Behind the safety car, he brings home the race to catch up, sixth place is enough. Alonso is defeated again. The rivalry with his teammate Mark Webber apparently also arose in that race. More on that in a moment.

Another entry in the history books followed the following year. Because Vettel storms to his fourth title with nine wins in a row. A record. It’s maximum dominance. Like Michael Schumacher once did. There has never been a stronger Vettel in the Red Bull. He is, of course, the youngest series winner of all time.

The cops feud Vettel vs. Webber

Nevertheless, not only the hearts fly to him. Whoever wins also bores the fans. Vettel is booed several times on the podium. His appearance on the track also plays a decisive role. Vettel often comes across as ambitious. Someone who sometimes crosses borders. He’s cut from the stuff that makes you a champion.

In 2010 he crashed in Istanbul with his stable colleague Webber, although the two bulls are comfortably in the lead. Then in 2013 the escalation. The Australian leads Vettel in Malaysia. The team gives the clear instruction: “Multi 21”. Means: Webber should stay ahead of Vettel. But the German looks for a duel with the garage neighbor, passes and wins. Not the best way, but he was “the faster one,” said Vettel, who then apologized. It’s scenes like this that bring Vettel’s reputation as a hothead. RB team boss Christian Horner recently revealed that Vettel was still angry with Webber because he blocked his way in the 2012 final and almost cost him the title.

What nobody suspected at the time: 2013 will be his last world title. A new star is rising in the F1 sky. Michael Schumacher, of all people, used his knowledge and experience to push Mercedes into the new decade. The era of V6 hybrid engines begins. The bulls are suddenly weakening, Mercedes is the new top dog. In 2014, Vettel finished behind his teammate for the first time – the Australian Daniel Ricciardo. His compatriot Webber had had enough of Vettel and F1 after 2013.

An option in the contract allows Vettel to make a change – he is fulfilling a childhood dream and will be starting for Ferrari from now on – just like his childhood hero and idol Michael Schumacher, who won five titles in a row with Scuderia.

Vettel fails with Ferrari

Vettel arrives as a four-time champion in his prime. Ferrari has been (and still is) without a drivers’ title since 2007 and without a constructors’ title since 2008. The Tifosi crave success. The mischievous hag with the cheering finger should finally bring them to them.

What happens so often at Scuderia happens. A somehow unique mix of too high ambitions, Ferrari mistakes in strategy and technology as well as driver blunders slow down the team and Vettel. Vettel’s over-ambition is also evident here. For example, when he rammed Hamilton in Baku in 2017. A scandal. The friendship between the two only suffers temporarily.

Only in 2017 and 2018 will Vettel in red threaten the new dominator Hamilton. 2018 in particular is looking good for a long time. The German pilot leads the world championship until the race in Germany. There he destroyed his race while in the lead – and in a certain way also the world championship: Vettel slipped into the gravel. Vettel is not coming back after the summer break.

It was the last realistic chance at a title. Because in the following two years Vettel was hopelessly behind, even had to admit defeat to the new crown prince in the Reds, Charles Leclerc. In 2020, the cooperation with the Reds ended ugly. The chapter is over.

The big dream of following in Schumacher’s footsteps, of bringing a title to Italy with Ferrari and the frenetic Tifosi, is shattered by Mercedes and Ferrari itself. Perhaps the footsteps were a size too big after all. Who can replace a global brand and legend like Schumi one-to-one?

Aston Martin’s ambitions fizzle out

Vettel moves on. In the head probably the first thoughts of an early career end. But he still wants to push ahead with one project. The British carmaker Aston Martin takes over Racing Point in 2021 and finds the desired draft horse with a glamorous name in Vettel. The team has big ambitions – it should be a title by 2025 – but the reality is still: lower midfield. If things go well, you get points. Once even a podium.

But also on bad days: a last place like in Austria. A low point, as father Norbert explained. Ambitious Vettel and his ambitions squeezed into a car with no potential. Too little. The doubts grow. And not just them. Vettel’s family has grown in recent years, as has the desire for more time with her. The ice-cold racer has meanwhile developed into a reminder, into the conscience of the formula. He draws attention to socio-political issues with various campaigns. He has found a new role – alongside that of driver.

Vettel will leave Formula 1 as an icon. And despite the Aston Martin disappointment and Ferrari anger, the good thing is the failures will fade. One like Vettel between 2008 and 2013 does not exist every day. The fans will always remember the wild young Vettel, who took the premier class by storm and brutally dominated for years. With a mischievous laugh and finger cheers.

Emmanuel Schneider

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