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 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.
9 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.
8 8. Vettel’s Age
7 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.
6 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.
5 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.
4 4. Teamwork Off the Track
3 3. Vettel Will Be Ferrari’s #1
2 2. History Repeating Itself ?
1 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.
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