Saturday, 31 August 2013

Further thoughts on the Belgian Grand Prix

Where it started for Seb
Sebastian Vettel's Spa win looked routine, but nevertheless something from the race, and from Seb's drive, grabbed my attention in particular. It happened on lap 15. I'll come to this later.

Many complain that Seb's dominance feels by now like it's being going on for ever. But, if we're to be pedantic about it, it can actually be traced back three years. Almost exactly.

Sebastian Vettel - back where it began for him
Photo: Octane Photography
Why the precision? Well, this is where the roots of the Seb we all are familiar with today sprouted from, in the Belgian Grand Prix of 2010. That was a day on which his race ruined by a collision with Jenson Button, entirely the young Seb's fault after losing control of his car attempting a passing move. It was the latest of a number of incidents, some of which were Vettel's own errors, that squandered much of the technical advantage conferred by the Red Bull that year. And after the race it was open season on Seb, with many - especially those from the McLaren camp - lining up to trash his reputation.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh afterwards in particular twisted the knife, describing Vettel's move as 'more reminiscent of junior formulae', his punishment (a drive through) as 'pretty light', as well as essentially calling Vettel too error-prone. And, not missing an opportunity to refer to the incident with Mark Webber earlier that year in Turkey, Whitmarsh said: 'I would rather he did it (collided) with his team-mates rather than do it with us'.

Ted Kravitz in the BBC's TV coverage of that Spa race recounted how a number of McLaren mechanics apparently went out into the pits to perform a 'passive aggressive' stance as Vettel completed his drive through later in the race. Even the normally mild-mannered Jenson had a pop, calling Vettel's move 'weird' and alleging that Vettel was 'rattled' and 'confused'. McLaren acolytes and others described Vettel routinely as the 'crash kid'.

Martin Whitmarsh - critical of Seb
Photo: Octane Photography
But if this was all intended to destroy Vettel then it can be said to have backfired spectacularly, as Seb went through his long dark night of the soul and came out fighting. Much stronger and more complete. Since that day he's hardly looked back: in that year's remaining races he went on a stellar run to win the title by a nose at the last race, even overcoming an almost certain race win being denied him by a late engine failure in Korea. He won the title the year after too. And the year after that. And, what do you know, it's looking a lot like he'll add title number four to his collection this campaign. Taking this period as a whole he's won 24 of the 56 F1 races - an astonishing strike rate.

And to return to the lap 15 of the 2013 race that I mentioned at the outset, when having pitted he went for a similar move on Button at the same corner, this time it was totally different. Crisp, firm, decisive. And once through he disappeared.

One wonders if Seb - a fan of history - at any point reflected on the change between then and now. One also wonders if Whitmarsh and others at McLaren ever stop to reflect on what they, inadvertently, helped to create.

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