Saturday, 1 November 2014

Sebastian Vettel: What To Expect In 2015, a guest post by Charles Bell

It's been a strange year to say the least for reigning World Drivers' Champion Sebastian Vettel. Following a 2013 campaign that helped cement Vettel as one of the greatest F1 drivers in history, expectations were sky high heading into 2014. However, the season just never seemed to get rolling smoothly for Vettel.

Vettel's pairing with Ricciardo this year has
led to many surprises
Photo: Octane Photography
As F1 fans are aware, the first jarring event for Vettel's 2014 campaign actually came at the end of last year, when long-tenured teammate Mark Webber retired from F1 for good. Still, it seemed to be an adjustment that Vettel would likely work through with ease, until he began to be plagued by shaky reliability from the start of the season. And that became the story more or less throughout 2014. As various issues forced retirements and sub-par finishes, Vettel faded from the top of F1 even as new team mate Daniel Ricciardo launched himself forward into what now looks like a guaranteed third-place finish on the year.

But can we expect a revival of sorts for Vettel when the calendar turns to 2015? It's hard to say, but this may just be the most fascinating storyline in F1 moving forward.

Following his consecutive podium finishes in Singapore and Japan a few weeks ago, many were looking to the Russian Grand Prix as an opportunity for Vettel to regain some momentum to finish the year. Although, by that point a top-three year end finish was already looking extremely unlikely. Betfair Formula 1 column writer Ralph Ellis, in recognising Vettel as a value bet for the Russian Grand Prix, even went as far as to say that the world champion had 'clearly recovered his taste for racing.' This speaks to the idea that just a few positive results can turn a season around. Indeed, Vettel seemed to be back on track before falling to an uninspiring eighth-place finish in Russia.

Now Vettel will face the last handful of events for the 2014 campaign with a renewed sense of concern surrounding him. Most are placing him below the top tier of betting contenders for the United States Grand Prix, and it looks increasingly likely that he'll finish behind team mate Ricciardo. But in terms of looking ahead to the 2015 season, there is still reason for optimism regarding the future for Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel looks set to swap his Red Bull for a Ferrari
Photo: Octane Photography
As you may have heard by now, Vettel appears to have secured a move to Ferrari (where Fernando Alonso will be leaving), having exercised a clause in his Red Bull contract allowing him to opt out of the partnership before 2015. Forbes is reporting that Vettel's new deal - worth £150 million over three years - could turn him into the highest-salaried athlete in the world. Fans of the German champion will be hoping the move can give him a boost on the track as well. But to say the least, it's a somewhat-puzzling move from a racing perspective, as Ferrari's own struggles in the past few seasons have been noteworthy.

The hope appears to be that the same struggles that have led Alonso to wave farewell to Ferrari could help Vettel succeed there, as the team is undergoing a full restructuring. BBC wrote of the move that Vettel will be looking to benefit from a new direction at Maranello (of which he is a part), with first-year team principal Marco Mattiacci getting his first real crack at making an impact.

As for what we should actually expect from Vettel in 2015, it's always difficult to make any sort of sound prediction when a driver changes teams. Particularly in this case, with Ferrari restructuring its team across the board (rather than simply putting Vettel behind the wheel for an otherwise reliable team), there appears to be a great deal of uncertainty.

Vettel has much to think about looking to the future
Photo: Octane Photography
On the one hand, the combination of a Sebastian Vettel reportedly hungry for something new and a motivated team leader willing to make changes certainly sounds like a formidable combination. At a glance, this story seems like a coup for Ferrari, and it's easy to imagine a new team led by Vettel making a major impact on the Formula 1 scene as soon as 2015. However, it may be more reasonable to expect something of a growth period for Ferrari and Vettel, as the driver gets used to new surroundings and the team works to construct a winning vehicle. Niki Lauda, for one, has already suggested that it will take longer than the time between now and the start of the 2015 tour for Ferrari to put together a car capable of winning a world championship, and that may just be the cold hard fact at the base of the debate.

Still, it's important to remember how much went wrong for Vettel this season that wasn't necessarily under his control on the track. Despite all the issues, he's competing for a top-five finish (ahead of Ferrari's current top man Alonso). So due to the sheer quality of Vettel's driving, it seems reasonable to expect him to compete for a top three finish in the 2015 championship, even in his first year with Ferrari. Toppling the Mercedes team and Lewis Hamilton for a world championship, however, may take a little bit longer.

This is a guest post by Charles Bell, freelance writer and all-around sports enthusiast.

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