A ‘Crash Star' turns top star

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel of Germany, the 2010 World Champion, is phenomenally talented and perhaps the most marketable F1 star today.-AP

Sebastian Vettel scoffed at comparisons with his illustrious countryman Michael Schumacher. He instead said that he wanted to be the ‘New Vettel', which is what he became as the 2010 season entered the homestretch. And guiding him through to becoming a matured driver and a world champion was his association with Red Bull, which, more or less, seems like the German's real home. By G. Raghunath.

A champion is someone who gets up when he can't.

— Jack Dempsey, the World heavyweight champion

(1919-1926).

It's so easy to think of Sebastian Vettel as the youngest World champion, a mark he took away from another young driver of prodigious talent, Lewis Hamilton. For the 23-year-old Red Bull driver is definitely one of the most popular personalities not only in his team but also in the Formula One circuit, even though his team-mate Mark Webber might have a different take on this. The German is also phenomenally talented and perhaps the most marketable F1 star today.

But that doesn't warrant ignoring the hard hours he has put in, both in the Red Bull garage and on the circuit, the enervating battles he has had to wage with Webber and at least three former World champions — Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button — in the field, and the gratuitous pressures he had to soak up following tensions in the team, caused partly by Webber's not too infrequent ramblings of the team's bias towards Vettel and partly by the loads of FIA scrutiny the Red Bull cars had to undergo through the season. And in the end, Vettel's terse but emotional expression of thanks to his team (“Thank you boys, unbelievable”), after the Red Bull head Christian Horner radioed him that he had become the World champion, said it all. He was simply relieved to end a “physically and mentally draining” season with a World title.

“I'm speechless,” Vettel said in the post-race press conference. “I don't know what you are supposed to say in these moments, it has been an incredibly tough season for myself and all of us, physically and mentally. We always kept believing in ourselves — no matter what people said — in the team and in our car. I kept believing in myself and today was a special day all round.”

This, coming from a lad who had neither led the title race nor had won back-to-back races until the final grand prix of the season, rings so true.

Still, some people in the circuit refuse to give Vettel his due, saying the German was indeed fortuitous to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that eventually led to his coronation at the Yas Marina Circuit. There may be some truth in this, for Ferrari appeared to have made a hash of Fernando Alonso's pit stop, calling him in very early (15th lap). And when the Spaniard rejoined the race, he had dropped eight places to 12th and was struggling to power past the Russian, Vitaly Petrov (Renault). Alonso finished the race in the seventh place, while a fifth place would have secured him the World title.

“What I feel inside is a lot of pain... for sure it was the worst race of the year for us and that's why it hits you very hard in the head,” Ferrari's Technical Director Stefano Domenicalli said after the race.

Illustrious Germans... Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher.-AP

However, attributing Vettel's success completely to luck amounts to callously disparaging one of the most exciting drivers in Formula One in recent times. In fact, driving what had come to be known in the circuit as the ‘Cars of the Season' for the sheer power and speed that the Red Bulls could unleash (between Webber and Vettel, the team had 15 poles and nine victories), it is baffling that Vettel did not wrap up the World title earlier than he actually did.

No doubt he was extremely unlucky in Bahrain, Melbourne, Singapore and South Korea, dogged as he was by reliability issues. But then, he was also responsible for throwing away a few races from winning positions, the Turkish Grand Prix being one stark example. In Istanbul, Vettel ruined a potential 1-2 finish for Red Bull by ramming into Webber. Of his 10 pole positions, Vettel managed to convert just three (European, Japanese and Abu Dhabi grands prix) to victory, which, by the German's standard, is quite abysmal.

Vettel's aggressive driving style, bordering, at times, mysteriously on unruliness, has drawn a lot of flak, much as his steely resolve and a hard-nosed approach to competition has compelled comparisons with his legendary countryman Michael Schumacher. The numerous crashes he has been a part of in his fledgling career earned him the sobriquet ‘Crash Kid', with which Vettel is clearly not comfortable, even given his strange fetish for handing weird names to his racing cars (Kate's Dirty Sister, Randy Mandy and Luscious Liz are a few examples). He is equally uncomfortable with being talked of in the same breath as Schumacher. And whenever the media calls him ‘Baby Schumi', he would counter, “I would like to be the New Vettel.”

The New Vettel he finally became as the season entered the homestretch, as it were. And guiding him through to becoming a matured driver and a world champion was his association with Red Bull, which, more or less, seems like the German's real home.

Like Schumacher at Ferrari, Vettel has developed a very healthy work ethic at Red Bull.

He is reported to be the first to enter the Red Bull garage and the last to leave, after every detail pertaining to the configuration of his car is settled. His relationship with Red Bull is multi-dimensional; it's contractual, professional and sentimental.

So, it's not for nothing that Vettel is Red Bull's favourite or the number one driver. That he is immensely gifted and has a personality that can take Brand Red Bull to stirring heights helps in no small measure.

VETTEL FACTFILE Name: Sebastian Vettel Date of birth: July 3, 1987 Nationality: German Team: Red Bull Racing Races: 62 Championships: 1 — 2010 Wins: 10 Podiums: 18 Pole positions: 15 Fastest laps: 6 BEGINNINGS

* Born in Heppenheim, a town surrounded by vineyards between Heidelberg and Darmstadt, on July 3, 1987.

* Started out racing karts at the age of eight and then competed in junior series, including the 2004 German Formula BMW championship where he won 18 of the 20 races. That earned him a test in a Williams-BMW F1 car.

* The following year he was top rookie in the Formula Three Euroseries, won by Britain's Lewis Hamilton.

FORMULA ONE

* Became the youngest driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend when he drove for BMW-Sauber in Friday practice in Turkey in 2006 aged 19 and 53 days.

* Made his Formula One debut with BMW-Sauber at Indianapolis in 2007 when he replaced the injured Robert Kubica. He finished eighth, becoming the youngest driver to score a point aged 19 and 349 days.

* Took part in seven races in 2007 with Toro Rosso. He was handed a full race seat with Toro Rosso for 2008 and failed to finish his first four races. He then won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza from pole position. That made him the youngest driver to start on pole (21 years and 72 days) and also the youngest ever winner (21 years and 73 days).

WITH RED BULL

* He switched to Red Bull for 2009 after Britain's David Coulthard retired.

* Won four races last year, including Red Bull's first victory at the Chinese Grand Prix where he also secured the team's first pole position and led their first one-two finish.

* He ended up overall runner-up behind Brawn's Jenson Button in 2009.

* In 2010, he took 10 pole positions and won five races.

* He became World champion at the age of 23 and 135 days. The previous youngest was McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in 2008, aged 23 and 301 days.

* He is only Germany's second F1 world champion, after seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.