Sebastian Vettel will go down in history as one of the greatest drivers in the sport. Four titles in a spell of dominance that only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have managed.
It’s hard to imagine now that at the start of F1 sixth decade that the German was the man to beat, after the five titles achieved by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. A year on since his hopes of a fifth title disintegrated with that crash from the lead of the German Grand Prix, its true to say he hasn’t recovered and has only taken one win in the last year.
His year has been littered with a number of silly errors, which has maybe damaged his legacy forever, and which has sparked real doubts about his future in the sport.
Vettel’s derailment came at Turn Twelve with fifteen laps to go, when he was on course to extend his championship lead. He locked up in the rain and stumbled into the gravel and then the track-side barrier. His race was over in a matter of seconds and, smashing his fists on his steering wheel, Vettel was clearly emotional in the cockpit.
His win at Spa wasn’t the rebound he wanted another incident at Monza when he locked up and made contact with Hamilton. More incidents followed with both in Suzuka when he attempted a move on Verstappen and his tangling with Ricciardo in the other Red Bull on the opening lap. Another collision, another spin in the Ferrari.
A reset for 2019 hasn’t paid off, Vettel facing a very strong threat from within with his new teammate Charles Leclerc. Ferrari has not been able to get what appeared to be the stronger car in testing are yet to beat Mercedes and win this season.
Canada race Vettel won on the track, was taken away from him after an error, struggling for grip, locked-up and ran onto the grass, forcing the Mercedes towards the wall as a result. A five-second penalty was given, and Vettel had lost again.
But the error was an error, despite the long-running row over the penalty. Silverstone saw another error, arguable highlighting his difficulties in wheel to wheel racing.
The defeat in Montréal the crack in his dented armour. The decorated F1 champion is currently 100 points behind Hamilton in the championship.
Vettel throughout his career has either been winning or in the wars. Istanbul 2010, crashing into teammate Mark Webber, Baku in 2017 that famous crash in Baku with Hamilton. As well as Singapore and Mexico, all in that season.
Vettel has the perception now that he cannot battle wheel to wheel, nearly all his four world titles coming in a dominant Red Bull. In which he was not needing to fight for podiums week in week out, and on the rare occasions he did he beat his closest rival Fernando Alonso.
But the question remains did Vettel peak too early, Hamilton meanwhile has had his down. He has recovered stronger to win four titles in the last five years and is on course for his sixth this year. Vettel has time still two years younger than the Englishman.
The four-time world champion is adamant that he will stay at Ferrari until he achieves his “dream”, to emulate his hero Schumacher and bring the glory days back to the Scuderia, and his current contract expires at the end of 2020.
Vettel continues to face questions as do Ferrari about leadership, its remains to be seen whether he is the right man to lead Ferrari. All season the German has battled questions, about himself and Ferrari.
But he remains a traditionalist who loves the history of sport, speaks passionately and eloquently about its future and who commands a huge amount of respect in the paddock.
His future and legacy still yet to be clear…