Earlier this October, the big talking point in the world of Formula One was the Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton’s win and the terrifying crash of Marussia driver Jules Bianchi. The Frenchman’s crash and subsequent critical condition weren’t the only fallout from this season’s trip to Suzuka. The F1 world was rocked by the report that Fernando Alonso was set to leave Ferrari for McLaren-Honda next season. His replacement is reported to be four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. The news left fans and the media with a lot to digest all at once.
Alonso’s departure is big but the announcement that Vettel is departing Red Bull Racing is even bigger. Before he was even a teenager, the German racer had developed a relationship with Red Bull, joining their junior team in 1998. From there, his driving career developed to the point we know it today. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel helped propel each other to fame and glory from 2009 until 2013. In the era of the V8 engine, Red Bull Racing gave the 27 year old a fast and reliable car. In return, Vettel won four straight Drivers’ Championships and handed Red Bull four Constructor’s titles from 2010 to 2013. The chemistry between the two seemed unbeatable – at least until the 2014 season.
The switch to 1.6L V6 turbocharged power unit has shaken up the balance of power in the F1 world. Currently, Mercedes stands head and shoulders above the competition, leaving the other teams and engine developers scrambling to catch up. Amidst this change, the four-time Drivers’ Champion has fallen behind. To say Vettel’s performances have disappointed would be an understatement. To be fair, his car has lacked the reliability which became so synonymous with Red Bull over the past four seasons. The German’s stock has dropped considerably this campaign, not helped at all by the success of fellow Red Bull teammate, Australian Daniel Ricciardo who currently sits above Vettel in the standings. Perhaps he has lost faith in his team’s ability to produce a winning car? Perhaps he feels somewhat replaced by his teammate? Whatever the reason, he is looking to regain his winning ways by trading in his Red Bull wings for the prancing horse of Scuderia Ferrari.
Will Sebastian Vettel succeed at Ferrari? There are many who say no. Some feel Vettel was always just an average driver who benefitted from a fast car and when regulations changed for this season he was exposed as such. This logic is more than a little flawed as it suggests Lewis Hamilton is challenging for this season’s title only because his car is fast and not because he is skilled. In reality, as F1 has shown us over the decades, it’s hard to know for sure as just as much falls on the driver as the car. That said, there is every reason to believe that Vettel can rediscover his winning form with Ferrari. Of course, it’s not just down to Vettel, as Ferrari need to step up and provide a competitive vehicle for their new driver. James Hunt, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher have all demonstrated that talented drivers can win even if they aren’t in the fastest car. Knowing Ferrari, sooner or later they’ll get their act together and produce one of those engine-car combinations they are world famous for.
10 A Proven Winner
In all sports there is the old cliché that success breeds more success. In a nutshell, if you win, you’re more likely to win again in the future. The logic is that if you can face the challenges and overcome them, then the next time you meet these challenges there will be less stress and pressure, meaning you will be better suited both psychologically and physically to tackle them and win again. There are many examples of great teams crumbling in the playoffs or during the big game when there really is no reason for them to. On the other hand, there are ‘lesser’ athletes or teams which can win once and then get on a roll with a series of victories when statistically they shouldn’t be winning.
Sebastian Vettel has demonstrated he is a winner in Formula 1. Not just once or twice, but four times he claimed the Drivers’ Championship with a constructor that was not considered a traditional F1 powerhouse at the time. Just a fast car you say? Perhaps. He did win the 2011 and 2013 seasons by a massive 122 and 155 points respectively. However, I’ll see your 2011 and 2013 seasons and raise you the 2010 and 2012 campaigns where he squeaked by with 4 and 3 points respectively – winning the title on the very last day against a very good and reliable Ferrari team. Yes, this in itself doesn’t automatically mean he’ll be successful at Ferrari. It is, however, one important piece of the puzzle when weighing up the German’s future.
9 Ferrari Have (Apparently) Identified the Problems
Ok, let’s just get the obvious out of the way. The new 1.6l V6 turbo power units sound terrible and negatively affects the race experience for everyone. There are some who like the new engine and how it sounds. I even read an article a while back where the author tried to convince the reader that most people couldn’t tell the sound difference between the older 2.4L V8 and the newer 1.6L turbo engines. If you believe that, then send me an e-mail because I have some magic beans I’d like to sell you.
In all seriousness, the new engines have proved to be a challenge for many of the F1 teams this season. Even if you’ve only managed to get limited coverage, it’s been obvious from the start that Mercedes have the best engine. This has left the Renault and Ferrari powered teams lagging behind. In particular, the Ferrari power units are slower and use more fuel than their German counterpart. Ferrari’s new President, Sergio Marchionne highlighted this weakness as the top priority back in September, so you’d expect the engineers to be hard at work preparing next season’s engine. In addition, around the same time as Marchionne’s announcement, Ferrari reported that they would use the rest of the season to start testing car components for the 2015 season. All of this bodes well for Sebastian Vettel as it means the vehicle he will drive next season should be plagued by far fewer bugs and weaknesses.
8 Vettel’s Age
Like a football goalkeeper, Formula One drivers get better with age. Sure there are numerous instances in both sports where younger athletes steal the spotlight – Sebastian Vettel was actually one of them when Red Bull dominated from 2010-2013 – but as both groups get into their late 20s and 30s, success tends to increase. Vettel is just 27 years old and, unlike Fernando Alonso, probably has at least several good years left in his career. This gives him and Ferrari time to work things out. Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda and Nigel Mansell all demonstrated that F1 drivers get better as they accumulate years of experience. Yes, the car is a massive part of the success these drivers enjoyed. Just remember, some of these drivers still won in cars which were not considered to be the best available at the time.
7 Vettel Can Manage the Pressure
It’s one thing to race for Red Bull, it’s a whole other world racing for one of the ‘big-boys’ like Scuderia Ferrari. The Italian giants have made a name for themselves as one of the historically dominant teams in F1. Like any great team, they don’t like to lose and will no doubt place great pressure on their personnel and drivers to get back to the top. Can Vettel handle the pressure? There are two main pieces of evidence to suggest he can. First, there is the saying that it’s lonely at the top. For Vettel, during his time of dominance with Red Bull, this saying proved true. Any team, athlete or driver at #1 always has a target on them. The media and fellow drivers were always in the news speculating about Vettel’s chances and even debating whether the German was cheating out on the circuit. From 2010 to 2013, he handled this barrage of attention and speculation and secured win after win in convincing fashion.
The second bit of evidence to suggest Vettel can succeed and handle the pressure at Ferrari comes from this season. Having been Red Bull’s golden boy over the past few seasons and winning race after race, this season has given Vettel a harsh reality check. The F1 Gods giveth and taketh away in the blink of an eye. Last season Vettel ended the campaign with nine consecutive wins. This season not only has he finished no higher than 3rd so far, but he has been surpassed by Red Bull’s new great hope, Daniel Ricciardo. The 2013 Drivers’ Champion handled all of this with a cool head. There have been no public lashings out at the team or Ricciardio. Instead, if there are frustrations and jealousies, they’ve been kept in-house. This is a skill which will serve him well when he makes his move to Scuderia Ferrari.
6 New Names Coming In?
The Ferrari team which Vettel will join next season will be far different from the one which started the 2014 season. In addition to changes in presidential leadership, Ferrari have overhauled much of their crew responsible for designing and building their race cars and engines. At the top is Luca Marmorini, the man in charge of Ferrari’s engines and electronics. He was sent packing in July, in a move which signalled big things were coming. Since then, several new engineers have reportedly been brought in to work on the engine issues, including three engineers from Mercedes. Not done there, the Italians have also attracted the services of former Red Bull designers who will work on the aerodynamics of next season’s car. If we want to go one step further, there are even rumors in various papers which suggest Ferrari is looking to reunite with Ross Brawn – the man who built up the Mercedes team we know this season and was technical director at Ferrari during the reign of Michael Schumacher.
All of these changes come as part of a major shakeup to make the team more competitive. Does this mean Vettel will dominate next season the way Lewis Hamilton has this year? No. It’ll take time to work out the bugs and raise the performance of the car and engine to a level where it can consistently compete with the likes of Mercedes. That said, all indications are that Ferrari’s 2015 car should be better than the one in use this year.
5 A New Driver-Driving Dynamic
If anything, one of the biggest challenges Vettel has faced out on the track this season isn’t necessarily the cars of Mercedes but the excessive oversteer from his own car. The four-time champion has complained that the 2014 Red Bull car requires so much correction during turns that he can’t focus on getting the maximum out of it. The problem here is lack of downforce and grip. Critics love to point to the now banned rear blown-diffuser - which used exhaust gas to generate more downforce when downshifting and heading into corners – as part of Vettel’s downfall. The problem is that the diffuser was banned before the 2012 season and Vettel still won that and the following season.
Nevertheless, Vettel clearly loves grip because he likes accelerate through the corner. The new chassis, engines and Pirelli tires have all affected the way the 2014 cars handle in corners. If Vettel needs more grip, a move to Ferrari may potentially help. At Ferrari, Vettel will be with a team who is desperately working to improve the car for next season. This means a lot of attention spent on power and grip/aerodynamics. Furthermore, at Ferrari, Vettel will be partnered with Kimi Raikkonen, a driver who is known to utilize a similar driving style. If Vettel is to rediscover his winning ways, all indications suggest Ferrari will provide him with the chance.
4 Teamwork Off the Track
Over his time with Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel developed a reputation for being very involved in helping to improving the team’s car. So what? Don’t all drivers do this? Yes, to varying degrees. You’ll always hear drivers after a race talking about how the team will need to do this-and-that for the next race and how the driver in question will have their input. In Vettel’s case, legendary design engineer Adrian Newey highlighted the German’s ability to give feedback on the car as well as his attention to developing and fine tuning the tires and suspension. In hindsight, this is unsurprising given Vettel’s driving style which relies heavily on a responsive front end and high amounts of grip. Given Ferrari’s recent mass hiring of new designers and engineers, it is likely Vettel’s input will be greatly appreciated as the team looks to cut into Mercedes’ advantage.
3 Vettel Will Be Ferrari’s #1
From 2009 until 2013, it was clear that Sebastian Vettel was Red Bull Racing’s #1 driver, and likely would be for some time. Red Bull worked for Vettel, protecting him from the media and making excuses when things didn’t work out during various Grand Prix. This season, although things haven’t worked out for the four-time champion, the public relationship between driver and team appeared to remain very good. Of course, there were ever growing suggestions in the media that teammate Daniel Ricciardio was slowly becoming the team’s unofficial #1. Where there’s smoke there’s usually a fire – no matter how small. Anyone who follows any sort of professional sport knows that most rumors in the press usually have some small shred of truth to them. In any event, at Ferrari, Vettel will be the primary driver of the club. Kimi Raikkonen is no young upstart who will come out of nowhere to outshine the German like Ricciardo did at Red Bull. This, by itself, doesn’t mean Vettel will suddenly return to his winning ways. However, when you have the full support of your boss, it always makes you feel good as you have one less thing weighing on your mind.
2 History Repeating Itself ?
For those who like to point to trends in history or even those of you who are superstitious, #2 on this list is for you. Let me paint a picture for you. A German in his mid-20s, having made a name for himself in Formula One with a ‘smaller’ team is tempted to join up with Scuderia Ferrari, a constructor enduring a dry spell. The driver is leaving a team which has been totally built around them and their abilities and moving to an Italian team which isn’t even a runner-up. The German driver trades in his Renault powered car for a Ferrari powered racer and ends up battling to unseat a Mercedes powered team that possesses English character. Sound familiar? Deja-vu? Although I wouldn’t bet the house based on this observation, we all know sports fans love superstitions and patterns which forecast possible outcomes.
1 A Fresh Start for Winning Mentalities
Leading up to the October announcements of driver changes, many people knew that Ferrari had been long-time admirers of Sebastian Vettel. In this sense, the news was not that shocking. In Vettel, Ferrari get a younger driver with, arguably, more potential than the outgoing Fernando Alonso. This isn’t to say that the 27 year old Vettel is better than the 33 year old Alonso - just that Ferrari have more years to work with Vettel as he enters his peak years as a driver. Letting Alonso go and replacing him with Vettel makes sense in an ‘old dog, new tricks’ sort of way. That is, with Ferrari undertaking a very visible overhaul of its staff, it makes sense to match that change with a new driver. Both driver and team have a history of success and both want to be #1 again.
In all likelihood, success will not come overnight. It will take at least a couple years as the likes of Mercedes won’t sit still while Ferrari recovers. Mercedes may very well be at the start of a dynasty which sees the team dominate for the next few years. That said, looking at the table of Drivers’ and Constructors’ Champions from past seasons it is clear that nothing lasts forever. A rejuvenated Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel may just be what the prancing horse needs to get its rhythm back.