In the last few months the world’s media have run out of superlatives to describe Sebastian Vettel.
That reached a fever pitch when the German claimed his fourth world title at the Indian Grand Prix last month.
Since then drivers and F1 figures past and present have been heaping praise so high on the 26-year-old, the mountain would rival Everest, yet despite all Vettel has accomplished in his short F1 career, it is hard to judge his place in F1 history, here’s why.
The absolute answer will not be up for debate until the young German hangs up his helmet; so for now at least it’s only possible to compare him to the current generation. This can however, lead to indications of his overall standing further down the line.
Vettel is without doubt the most successful driver of his era, behind him only Fernando Alonso has more than a solitary world title while the German also has the most wins with 37 and pole positions with 43.
Being the most successful however, doesn’t always mean you are the best racer of your time, indeed Ayrton Senna faced this with Alain Prost, while Michael Schumacher had competition from numerous drivers over his initial 15 year career.
For Vettel his competition comes in the shape of three drivers who claimed their championships just as, if not before he arrived in F1.
Fernando Alonso is seen by most as the best pound-for-pound driver on the grid with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen not far behind, so despite four world titles some have Vettel as only the fourth best of his era.
So what about those comparing him to the F1 greats because if he isn’t seen as one of the best of his generation how can you really judge him against them?
You rarely hear of Alonso or Hamilton being compared to Senna or Schumacher while on the one hand you have Vettel being mentioned alongside those drivers but then on the other suggestions that he is not even as good as Alonso and Hamilton.
He and Red Bull will undoubtedly go down in the books as one of the great driver/ team combinations in history, rivaling Michael Schumacher at Ferrari and Ayrton Senna at McLaren, though with Vettel still one championship behind Schumacher and Ferrari’s tally of five, the German/ Austrian partnership will need to do it again in 2014 and 2015 if they are to top that chart.
For Vettel on an individual driver basis he may still have that stigma of ‘it was only the car’ hanging over him in the question ‘is he one of the best drivers of all time?’, the difference between him and Michael Schumacher is the German had no real competition, on a driver level, during his five straight titles, sure lots of young racers tried Alonso and Raikkonen included but they had to rely on a team effort to finally overpower Schumacher as Renault and Alonso did.
It was also that ability to take a team and move them to the top that earned Schumacher his reputation and that is where Vettel falls down, most see his four titles as gifted to him with a superior car and for much of the last four years that has been true, but in my opinion at least he is still high on the list of all-time drivers.
Give a driver the right tools and he still needs to produce the goods and Vettel now is so consistent quite frankly it’s scary, he also has the drive that very few other top racing drivers had.
Indeed Ayrton Senna’s former race engineer and now technical chief at Toro Rosso, Giorgio Ascanelli, was quoted as saying Vettel is the most determined driver he has seen since the great Brazilian.
Sebastian adds more than that though, he has a personality very few top sports stars have, he is witty, funny and very humble for the fans and media yet fiercely competitive when focused on the task in hand.
So at this point of his career then where is Vettel’s place in history? Certainly I will not go as far as to say he is up with the likes of Fangio, Schumacher and Senna because Red Bull have too much influence, indeed I don’t yet think he deserves to be called the best of his generation, he’s in the top ten of all-time great drivers but he still has a lot more convincing to do.
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