|Strange though it sounds, Sebastian Vettel|
was once F1's pariah
Photo: Octane Photography
It sounds silly now, indeed it was rather silly at the time, but there once was a prevailing view in and around the sport that Seb went to pieces in wheel-to-wheel situations. That he couldn't hack it under pressure. That even he was a danger to others.
Related to the barbs he was the sport's number one pariah of choice for a good while. To think too that a suggestion that lingered on rather longer was that Seb always had it easy in his time in F1. Not so.
And his pariah status reached its peak in the Belgian Grand Prix of 2010. That day Seb ended the race of Jenson Button after losing control attempting a passing move and colliding with the McLaren. It was the latest of a number of incidents, some of which related to were his own errors, that contributed to him flagging in the points standings at a time when he seemed to take pole and lead almost everywhere. And after the Belgain race it was open season on Seb, with many - especially those from the Woking camp - lining up to trash his reputation.
McLaren's then-team principal Martin Whitmarsh in particular twisted the knife, describing Vettel's move as "not what you would expect to see in F1" and "more reminiscent of junior formulae", as well as that his punishment (a drive through) was "pretty light". He didn't miss an opportunity either to suggest that the incident wasn't an outlier and that Seb was a serial crasher: "when you keep doing these things you have to reflect on what is on your mind on this occasion" he said. Nor did he eschew an opportunity to refer to the incident with Mark Webber earlier that year in Turkey, saying: "I would rather he did it (collided) with his team mates rather than do it with us".
|Martin Whitmarsh had a lot to say|
Photo: Octane Photography
And 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, yes, the 'crash kid'.
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 stronger. Much stronger. He hardly looked back indeed, 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 then won the title in each of the three years after that also, two of them dominantly. As for McLaren in the same period? Well you know that one.
As outlined Seb hasn't always had things easy in F1. One also wonders if Whitmarsh and others at McLaren ever stop to reflect on what they, inadvertently, helped to create.
Rather like an Oedipus-style Greek tragic figure, McLaren it seems in seeking a favourable fate for itself in fact laid the ground for a highly unfavourable one. And for the rest of us it's merely the latest reminder that we shouldn't be too quick in making our minds up about drivers.