Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another Championship for Vettel

It astonishing how much has changed in Formula One since the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix.

At that time Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were tied for the points lead with the rookie Hamilton still looking for his first career victory. McLaren had just set the standard as class of the field and left the Ferrari pair of Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa down for the count heading to North America.

BMW Sauber was the third best team, staying close to McLaren and Ferrari up front but not being able to break through with the experienced veteran Nick Heidfeld and excitingly quick Pole Robert Kubica with a young German third driver named Sebastian who was dazzling in Friday first practices.

Heidfeld was the top German on grid with the young Nico Rosberg entering his second season and having displaced Ralf Schumacher as second-best German. Adrian Sutil was in his rookie season struggling to make the Spyker-Ferrari look average while his former teammate in Formula Three Lewis Hamilton sung great praise of the young German.

Renault was coming off back-to-back Constructors' Championships as they looked to continue the success of the Alonso-era with Hekki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella.

It was the beginning of the end for Honda. The factory squad with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello couldn't get out of each others way with the customer Super Aguri team having more points (1-0) after Takuma Sato took a surprising eighth place at Barcelona.

Nico Rosberg and Alexander Wurz were teammates at Williams-Toyota and Wurz would go on to score a third place at Montreal to extend the teams lead over the factory Toyota team in the constructors' championship.

Entering Montreal, Red Bull had only three points after David Coulthard finished fifth at Barcelona. Mark Webber had only five starts with the team but both he and Coulthard struggled with a car that was prone to mechanical failures. Meanwhile, Toro Rosso was no better with Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed having each retired from three of the first five races.

Formula One's summer of 2007 was heading to Indianapolis, Magny-Cours and Istanbul. The series was heading to Fuji for the first time in thirty years instead of Suzuka followed by Shanghai and Interlagos hosted the season finale on October 21st.

Over six years later and that young Sebastian that BMW Sauber had driving on Fridays has been the driving force to Red Bull ascent to the throne as King of Formula One and their fourth consecutive Constructors' Championship.

BMW is gone. Toyota is gone. Honda is gone but will be back shortly.

Renault is now Lotus. Spyker is now Force India. Williams is an after-thought. Sauber has another young German with loads of talent but no money to pay him.

Kubica is the World Rally Championship-2 champion. Mercedes has a factory team with Hamilton and Rosberg. Button is a former World Champion at McLaren, a team who can't get on the podium. Alonso is leading Ferrari. Räikkönen is leading Lotus but will be returning to Ferrari. There are as many Mexicans on the grid as there are Finns and Australians and there are more Mexicans than Spaniards and Brazilians.

It is October 27th. The series is leaving India for the final three races; there second race under the lights at Abu Dhabi, the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas and Interlagos hosts the season finale on November 24th. The series didn't go to France but did make stops in Singapore and Korea.

In Sebastian Vettel's six and a half seasons on the Formula One grid, the series has changed drastically and the German himself has been the flag-bearers for change. His dominance has shaken up Formula One as everyone looks to Red Bull as an unstoppable force.

Vettel has quickly craved his place into Formula One history. He leads all active drivers in championships and only Schumacher and Fangio have more. Having won 36 times, Vettel leads all active drivers and is only five behind Ayrton Senna on the all-time list.

And Vettel is only 26 and 4 months, just one example of how much younger drivers are when getting started in motorsports. At 26 and 4 months, Alain Prost was still a week away from winning his first race, let alone his first championship; Senna had four wins to his name but still had some work to do to become champion; Schumacher had already won one World Drivers' Championship and 11 wins.

Other drivers at 26 and 4 months: Jackie Stewart had two career wins; Jim Clark had just picked up his first career win; Niki Lauda had six wins and was on his way to win his first championship later that year; Piquet had only five career starts and wouldn't score his first career point until a year later; Juan Manuel Fangio was still 11 years away from racing in Europe for the first time, Jack Brabham was 3 years away from racing in Europe and was a decorated Midget car champion in Australia.

It is not inconceivable Vettel could get three more championships and match Michael Schumacher for most all time but if you are Vettel, do you want to race in Formula One for the remainder of your career? Schumacher raced until he was 43 with a three-year sabbatical. If you are Vettel, do you want to stay in Formula One for another seventeen years or do you try something new? It is really the question any younger driver has to ask themselves when they're twenty years old entering a top motorsport series. Do you want to race in the same series for most your life or do you ever consider venturing out and trying other forms of motorsport? Sure, by staying in one series you will have the opportunity to fill the record book with your name and try to set the bar higher every time you get on track but when do you hit the point of satisfaction?

Vettel has already entered the conversation as one of the all-time greats and he doesn't have to do anymore. He doesn't have to win another race, set another fastest lap or win another championship. He is already in the conversation.

Setting every record does not make you undisputedly the all-time greatest. Schumacher has the most wins and titles but plenty of people put Senna, Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Prost ahead of him and some will even put Brabham, Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren ahead of Schumacher because they competed and won in cars built by their own hands. It is a conversation that will never have one definable answer and nor should it.

Vettel could exit Formula One at thirty, spend a decade dabbling in Le Mans Prototypes, DTM, IndyCar, World Rally or whatever forms of motorsport he wants and still return to Formula One for two or three seasons to end his career.

Maybe it's because I am not a driver and maybe because I don't have millions of dollars keeping me where I am at but I would try different forms. Why wouldn't you try the 24 Hours of Le Mans a handful of times or the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar a handful of times? Think about it this way: Only one man has won a World Drivers' Championship, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 and that's Graham Hill. What active driver wouldn't want that diverse set of accomplishments on their résumé?

One would assume Vettel is financially comfortable and can make a living and one would assume wherever Vettel would go, Red Bull would support him. Why wouldn't Red Bull support him? Vettel has turned what was a mid-pack team to the best of a generation. Money is not and may never be an issue for Vettel. He has all the means in the world to go and do what only many dream as possible. If only if we all could be so fortunate.

Vettel has many years ahead of him and not only does he have the possibility to set all the records in Formula One but of becoming one of the most decorated drivers in the history of motorsport if he so chooses to venture out and try something new.