Is the Vettel era “boring”? Not even close

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Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Monza, 2011

The championship is virtually over after Vettel's eighth win

If Sebastian Vettel clinches the world championship at the next race, he’ll have done so with five races to spare.

No-one has won a championship that early since Michael Schumacher’s dominant streak in the early 2000s.

Some people have told me this has made the 2011 season “boring” and that Vettel’s domination of the championship has made F1 as tedious as it was during the peak of Schumacher’s reign. But I don’t agree.

More real racing

The differences between Vettel’s situation today and Schumacher’s a decade ago are far more striking than the similarities.

For one thing, it’s far easier to appreciate just how good a job Vettel is doing. No tailor-made tyres, no team mate pulling over to let him win – Vettel’s victories haven’t been as easy as some of Schumacher’s.

In the days when refuelling was allowed, it was easier for the driver of the fastest car to rise to the front without needing to overtake.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2004

Hungary 2004: We could have been spared 70 laps of tedium by giving Schumacher his trophy at this point

Simply put a bit more fuel in the car at the start, make the first pit stop a few laps later than everyone else and come out in the lead.

This isn’t a criticism of Schumacher, it’s just how the rules at the time shaped the racing. Thankfully, this predictable strategic formula is a thing of the past. The refuelling ban last year played a major role in promoting better racing.

So, while Red Bull have held the upper hand all year in qualifying, that hasn’t meant Vettel has been strolling to easy wins on race day.

Even when he has been on pole position, he’s often had to make moves on track to claim victory. That was the case in the last two races where he made brave moves on Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso.

On other occasions Vettel’s had to withstand terrific pressure. He crossed the line in Spain and Monaco with his closest pursuers just tenths of a second behind.

F1 wasn’t anything like as competitive as this seven years ago when Schumacher won 12 of the opening 13 races. At his first win in Bahrain the nearest non-Ferrari was over a half a minute behind, and it didn’t get much closer in the following rounds.

Poor championship, great races

Bruno Senna, Renault. Monza, 2011

Pirelli tyres have improved the racing in 2011

The softer tyres supplied by Pirelli this year have allowed drivers to race each other more closely. Even when Vettel is up front, the action behind him is often terrific.

The championship may be one-sided but the races have been highly entertaining. The verdict from F1 Fanatic readers supports this view: the average Rate the Race score so far this year is 7.6 out of ten, compared to 6.7 last year.

The Chinese and Canadian rounds attracted particularly high scores thanks to something we’ve seen little of in F1 in recent years – late-race changes of lead.

The lead changed hands on the final lap in Montreal. In Shanghai Lewis Hamilton rose from fourth to first over the final 15 laps. He did it not through refuelling strategy nor even because the cars in front of him retired – he did it by overtaking them on the track.

Remember, too, the thrilling three-way scrap for victory at the Nurburgring between Hamilton, Alonso and Mark Webber.

The days of the races effectively ending after the last refuelling stops are behind us – and that’s obviously a good thing.

This year we’ve had battles for victory going down to the final lap, varied strategies, surprise wins and stacks of overtaking from the front to the back of the field. Through it all one man and one car has stood head and shoulders above the rest – because that’s the way sport is sometimes.

Fortunately in 2011 domination in F1 by one driver makes for far more entertaining viewing than it did in 2004.

That year stands out in my memory as the worst season of racing I’ve ever seen. What we have today may not be perfect, but it is incomparably better.

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Images ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa / Ercole Colombo, Pirelli

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182 comments on Is the Vettel era “boring”? Not even close

  1. Uncle Bob said on 16th September 2011, 13:48

    Personally, I’m ignoring Vettel (let’s face it, he’s already the Champ this year), what’s going on behind him is fascinating. The gap between Alonso, Hamilton, Webber & Button is razor thin. For me, ignoring Vettel, Button is the best of the rest. What a driver he’s turning into – at last!

    • Kimster said on 17th September 2011, 8:38

      And after Singapore Hamilton will have to sacrifice his racing to help Button to get 2nd place in the WDC :D

  2. bearforce1 said on 16th September 2011, 13:55

    100% – This year has been terrific. I have been on the edge of my seat all the races.

    I often find it hard to keep up with what is happening during the race because there is so many battles. I see in the forums complaints about coverage cause things are missed by the director, I think its because they just can’t fit everything in or keep up.

    To be frank the only people who are complaining about it being boring are those who support teams and drivers other than RBR and Vettel. It is understandable that people feel this way and it may be boring for them but Objectively the racing has (team/driver out) been super.

    • I think it would be easier to understand what’s going on if the number of pitstops already made by each driver was displayed more often. Maybe F1 should learn from DTM where they show the current order and the number of pitstops made all the time. The current tyres could be indicated as well. Like this:

      1 VET (1) S
      2 ALO (2) S
      3 BUT (1) M

      M – medium tyres, S – soft tyres

    • I often find it hard to keep up with what is happening during the race because there is so many battles. I see in the forums complaints about coverage cause things are missed by the director, I think its because they just can’t fit everything in or keep up.

      Seeing that, I wonder if it should be sent to FOM and the BBC with a suggestion that the delayed coverage from 2012 should not be a highlights program but rather an extended coverage. Showing the full race with additional inserts showing all the interesting bits not seen in the live broadcast.

  3. UKfanatic (@) said on 16th September 2011, 13:57

    Real racing? Its all about tyres not about skill, like Martin Whitmarch said earlier this year the tyre wear isnt related to the drivers feedback but to mileage, at the top of the grid we never see a driver being quicker in race than in qually or vice versa we see cars that have better race pace or qually. At the back we have seen great racing very close fighting and a wide dispersion of teams occuping different positions.

    About the schuey era some people may not found it as boring cause the cars were in their opinion prettier, and the traditional tabacco logos were still common giving a more cclassic look to the cars and finally it depends on what team you support.

  4. I think that a close fight for the title is an important part of a good F1 season. Sometimes it can even make dull races feel exciting. I remember I was on the edge of my seat all the time during the Abu Dhabi GP 2010 even though the race itself was a complete borefest. However, I absolutely agree that there has been a lot of good racing this year even if we haven’t seen a real battle for both championships. Moreover, I would never consider to stop watching F1 just because one driver had dominated the last seasons. That’s just the way it is, you cannot have excitement all the time, you need to watch boring races and experience bad F1 seasons to be able to appreciate the great ones.

  5. this year reminds me of the Rossi dominance years in MotoGP, when Valentino was clearly the guy to beat but every race was quite exciting till the last lap. Maybe we haven’t seen so many battles for the lead this year, but certainly there have been lots of duels for podium or other important places.

    • Yes but the difference is Valentino Rossi is one of the most charismatic and likeable characters the world of motorsport has ever seen, whereas a lot of people find it hard to warm to Vettel.

      And Rossi always did his best to make battles for the lead, because he knew fans would switch off otherwise. The Rossi comparison is probably more valid to Schumacher in terms of dominance but it was infinitely more entertaining to watch.

      • UKfanatic (@) said on 17th September 2011, 1:04

        YYYeeeeessss good comments from both mat88 and debaser91, keep saying that to my friends they just dont understand

  6. I think I prefer last year and ’07 to this year. The overall fight for the championship is the most exciting part of Formula One to me and without that this year, although the racing has at times been incredible I have often felt a bit flat after the race as (inevitably) Vettel again extends his lead.

    That is not to say this year has been boring, far far from it. Indeed the comparison to the Schumacher dominance of ’04 is no comparison at all. I (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) switched off during that period and only started watching again when Alonso arrived to liven it up, doing that now would be truly unthinkable.

    • kowalsky said on 16th September 2011, 17:06

      2007 was one of the all time classics. Alonso the two times world champion against the bigest talent since schumacher.
      The cars were fast.
      There was drama, political monouvering, the bigest penalty the sport has ever seen. And the cliffhanger at brazil was amazing.
      I think you must go to 1986 to see something of that level.
      Of course it was better than this year. My humble opinion.

  7. The relaxation of the ban on team orders has led to Red Bull favouring Vettel over Webber, just as Ferrari favour Alonso over Massa. Only 4 of the top 6 drivers are racing each other which is a bad omen for the future. Team-mates should be obliged to race each other unless they can prove an exceptional reason why they could not do so.

    • Dave_F1 said on 16th September 2011, 16:21

      i dont think there has been any favoritism which has affected results.

      ferrari let alonso/massa race pretty hard at spa for instance.

      problems been that massa & webber have just not been fast enough to challenge alonso or vettel.

  8. Chris J said on 16th September 2011, 14:56

    Vettel is doing a great job, he’s killing his teammate, but yeah, I think the races this year are boring. I’m prepping myself for next year and only watching delayed highlights. I can’t break the addiction, but at least the boredom goes quickly.

  9. And don’t forget the mid-field, year started with a bang for Renault and Sauber, gradually both slipped back, MGP were not consistent either, Force India had a sluggish start they peaked in Germany and Hungary, now STR is looking particularly quick.
    It’s just a shame that FOM understandbly covers top 5 but midfield deserves more coverage as fight is equally exciting over there.
    Keith, it can be a decent topic to report which team had the most coverage on screen as you did for Radio messages. Initial 2-3 laps can obviously be skipped.

  10. marcusbreese (@marcusbreese) said on 16th September 2011, 15:11

    Well said! Whilst it is hard to avoid a slightly damp feeling on Sunday evenings thanks to Vettel extending his lead at virtually every race, they’ve all (with the exception of Valencia) been at least good, with several being fantastic.

    People will look back on this year as a year of vintage racing, where Vettel fought hard and raced well for a richly deserved championship.

  11. Lucas Alexander Munro said on 16th September 2011, 16:21

    It is… end of story.

  12. joey-poey said on 16th September 2011, 16:33

    I think the races have been pretty good, but the DRS continues to be a niggling point in my mind constantly during races. I know it’s tainting the racing and it makes it difficult to appreciate them to their fullest extent.

  13. David B (@david-b) said on 16th September 2011, 16:59

    There are many factors contributing to great races this year: tyres, refuel ban, drivers ability, KERS, DRS (even if I’d cut it off immediately).
    Another thing is that cars seem somehow to be able to follow each other with no major troubles. I mean, consider Monza last week: Hamilton was able to chase Schumacher from so close, even at Parabolica or Lesmo, or Ascari. Something simply impossible until few years ago (but also Silverstone or Barcelona or Shangai quick bends looked less “punishing” for the chasers this year). Wouldn’t know what this is due to, but it something you can appreciate at every race! Hope it is a symptom of a reduced aerodynamic importance in f1 race.

  14. kowalsky said on 16th September 2011, 17:00

    i agree with you that now it’s better then in 2000-04. And you forgot to mention keith that red bull its dominating with more style, something ferrari didn’t in the past. Ferrari used all his political might to win. I remember in 2003 the michelin with of tyres afair. That was digusting.
    But on the other hand i remember watching quali laps of schumacher in the rain that were amazing.
    How do you rate the quali laps this season?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th September 2011, 10:59

      I prefer qualifying now to the race-fuel qualifying that started to creep in from 2003. I prefer seeing proper, low-fuel qualifying laps and we’ve had some gems – Vettel’s at Monza last weekend for example.

      Schumacher had some very good ones of course – Austria ’03 sticks out in my memory.

  15. Younger Hamii said on 16th September 2011, 17:22

    The ‘Vettel Era’ hasnt even begun yet(IMO)well i would call it unspectacular,I wouldnt call it boring because we’ve still been entertained to an Interesting,Changeable & Epic Season despite Seb’s Dominance.

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