‘the sport is not always about the winner’

Lewis Hamilton had remarked at the end of the Korean Grand Prix in October that the one-man hegemony is a “television turn-off” for most fans.-S. PATRONOBISH

Vettel’s relentless run this season that began in Belgium isn’t very different from Michael Schumacher’s domineering sprints with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004. This brings us to the question whether Vettel and Co. have rendered Formula One boring, just as, in the opinion of many, Schumacher and Ferrari had done a decade ago? Here, some of the elite in F1 speak about it. By G. Raghunath.

On the eve of the Indian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes acknowledged that Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were matchless. “We have to stop them; that’s what we are here to do,” the German said after taking the second place on the grid, behind Vettel.

The ones stalking the Red Bull driver failed to come anywhere close to realising their objective, either in the Indian Grand Prix – where Vettel scored his sixth successive victory of the season and claimed his fourth World Championship on the bounce – or in the race in Abu Dhabi the week after.

As the Formula One caravan heads for the penultimate race of the season in Austin (the United States Grand Prix, November 17), the chance of anyone baulking Vettel, who is chasing a couple of significant records (Michael Schumacher’s 13 victories in a season and Alberto Ascari’s nine successive wins), looks as faint as deep-sky objects.

Vettel’s amazing skills behind the wheel and his excellent management of the swiftly grinding down Pirellis, combined with the Red Bull chief engineer, Adrian Newey’s ingenious aero designing have delivered the Milton Keynes-based outfit a near invincible package.

“I think it’s a team effort at the end of the day... you could argue that I have an important job when I’m out there driving, no doubt, I’m aware of that but I’m not selfish. I’m not taking all the credit myself. I’m very thankful for what these mechanics are doing. If you look at their pay cheque at the end of the month, you would be surprised if you could do the amount of hours that they do. I think it’s better to work at McDonald’s than to do what they do. It’s 100% commitment,” said Vettel in praise of his team and its crew after winning the Indian Grand Prix.

And as if to make it clear to his hecklers, who had booed him in Belgium, Italy and Singapore, Vettel added that Red Bull’s success didn’t happen overnight; it was all the result of years of sweat and toil by the team, on the circuit and in the factory in Milton Keynes.

Vettel’s relentless run this season that began in Belgium isn’t very different from Michael Schumacher’s domineering sprints with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004. During that pulsating phase of his chequered career, when he won five successive World Championships, Schumacher was ruthless in 2002 (he won 11 out of 17 races) and 2004 (13 out of 18 races – a record).

This brings us to the question whether Vettel and Co. have rendered Formula One boring, just as, in the opinion of many, Schumacher and Ferrari had done a decade ago?

The debate, in fact, revved up after Lewis Hamilton had remarked at the end of the Korean Grand Prix in October that the one-man hegemony is a “television turn-off” for most fans. “Personally I feel for the fans because I remember the period of time when Michael Schumacher was winning,” the Mercedes driver said. “I remember waking up in the morning to watch the start of the race and then going to sleep, and then waking up when it ended because I already knew what would happen. I am pretty sure a lot of people were doing that today.”

So, is Vettel’s domination a poor advertisement for Formula One?

If anything, it only points to how well one half of Red Bull has done its homework; how meticulously it has planned its race strategies and, without doubt, how efficiently Vettel has functioned to help his team execute those strategies. (The other half of the team has largely disappointed with Mark Webber struggling woefully to draw the same power and performance out of his RB9.)

It is no fault of Vettel that he sewed up his fourth successive World Drivers’ Championship with three races remaining in the calendar. And Red Bull too cannot be blamed for sealing its fourth consecutive Constructors’ Championship well ahead of the final race of the season. As the Red Bull principal, Christian Horner, put it: “The team’s job is to win the titles (Drivers’ and Constructors’) as soon as possible. It is not our responsibility to take it to the last race.”

According to Nico Rosberg, though winning is what matters in Formula One (“Every driver gets into his car on the race day hoping to win.”), the sport is not always about the winner. “Let’s forget what’s happening in the front, where Vettel may be all alone in the lead. But aren’t you seeing what’s happening behind him? Aren’t the contests between drivers behind him interesting? The crowds are enjoying it, right,” the Mercedes driver asked passionately.

The 2009 World champion, Jenson Button, refused to look too deep into one-driver one-team domination and instead blamed the other leading teams for their inability to mount a serious challenge against Vettel and Red Bull. “Vettel certainly is a great driver, but we are to blame for the position that he and Red Bull are in today. It’s not Red Bull’s fault that they are doing exceptionally well; it is our fault that we allowed them to dominate us completely.

“I won’t say the season is boring because of one driver who has always been in the front. We (Formula One drivers) don’t see it that way. For us the excitement is in trying to stop the leader,” the McLaren driver explained.

Strangely, it was Vettel who infused a lot of excitement in the Indian Grand Prix. The grandstand at the Buddh International Circuit was packed with the fans eager to witness the coronation of the German as the youngest driver to win four World titles in succession. And it is because of Vettel – Vettel alone – that there is some interest in the remaining two races of the season, for he is at the doorstep of equalling two significant marks in the history of Formula One.