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 ?? 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. xanathos (@xanathos) said on 16th September 2011, 17:32

    I totally agree with your comment, Keith.
    I don’t understand why people are complaining about ‘boring’ championships. Is our attention span so short that we can’t stand seeing one driver dominate? As you have said, the racing is rather good, so no one can conmplain about that like in recent years.
    On the other hand, over 50% of all F1 championships were decided before the last race, but only one of the last five. And in recent years we really couldn’t complain about boring championships:
    2010: four-way title fight in the last race
    2009: Decided early, but seeing new teams at the front was somewhat refreshing.
    2008: Could the end have been any more exciting?
    2007: Three-way fight, won by the outsider
    2006: Arguably the two best drivers of the decade fighting it out until the end.

    So we all knew that this had to happen sooner or later – Exciting championship fights should be something special, not something you see every year.

  2. judo chop said on 16th September 2011, 18:07

    Red Bull and Vettel have been excellent but this season has been ruined by the phoney and unfair overtaking created by DRS. The Pirelli tires have been rubbish too.

  3. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 16th September 2011, 18:17

    I would have liked to know how many people would have predicted anyone other than Vettel to have won the title this season.

    In my eyes, this championship was decided after Abu Dhabi last year. We all knew Vettel would only get better after that race, and it was highly predictable that he would go and completely destroy Webber. I was expecting McLaren to be up there more but it was no surprise to me that the RB7 has been as quick as it has been. 13/13 poles so far this season gives that away.

    I was a fan of KERS. It provided some great racing in 2009 in the hands of Hamilton, Alonso (for a while) and certainly Raikkonen. I knew DRS would have teething problems but that will come good with time. The Pirellis have brought back another thing I loved about Formula 1 prior to 2010: strategy. We have seen everything this season, records broken, the longest race ever, 21st – 1st, Schumacher leading for Mercedes, big shunts (unfortunately), rookies giving respected teammates a run for their money, Hamilton cracking, Button charging, Webber frustrated, Alonso’s passionate drive at Silverstone, “Felipe was faster than you”, a new British star, a race decided on the last lap, Kubica missed, Senna scoring points, an explosion, fires, penalties left, right & centre, controversy, technical reshuffling making the silly season involve personnel as oppose to drivers and so much more.

    But through all this, Vettel has clearly had an overall edge on his opponents. He’s now driving like a champion.

    2011 has been so full of drama I can’t remember half the amazing things that have happened!

    I may just have to watch all the races again over Winter.

  4. I prefer exciting races to exciting championships.

    2005 Japanese GP is the best example for me. The championship had already been decided and yet we had action action action in that race, one of the best races ever.

    On the other end, we have the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP – An absolute nail biter in terms of the championship, but in terms of racing, it was just dull. Had the championship been decided already at the point, then that race would have been completely pointless to watch.

    The excitement of a close championship is more of an icing on the cake for me. 2011 has been awesome, and every race has kept me on the edge of my seat, I don’t care if the championship situation is boring, the racing is what matters.

    • David BR said on 16th September 2011, 20:42

      True and one plus point is that after Vettel wraps up next week, at least nobody will have to play safe in terms of points. Should be enjoyable.

  5. I always believed that from a marketing aspect of the sport, A dominant winner is always good for the “publicity” of the sport…I repeat for the Publicity of the sport. He/She or the team always makes it more popular and hence a better sell-able entity.

    I remember during Schumacher era even though my mom who was not quite interested in F1 would ask “Did Schumacher win again today” or she would say is’nt it the sport that Schumacher always wins. I myself started watching F1 in those days because of Senna’s Heroics. It has been the same with Golf where Tiger woods made it really famous. So is Nascar where Jimmie Johnson kind of blew the wind out of everybody as far championship is concerned or Australia dominating Cricket or Brazil dominating Soccer or most importantly Steffi Graf/ Fedreer dominating Tennis.

    From a Media, Publicity and marketing perspective it is always a good Anchor and a corner stone for the sport to have dominant team/Sports(men/Women). These domination causes either Strong Likes or Dislikes which helps in creation of fans who either Support or dislike the character/team. Naturally that will bring them back to the sport. These personalities and teams becomes brand ambassadors.

    For example there are lot of people who hated Schumacher and a lot of loved him because of what ever reasons. Now F1 was winner because it created a great Fan base. Many came back to watch the sport to see Schumacher Lose and the vice versa. I believe F1 would not have been so popular in Asian countries if not for Schumacher and Senna. The Former in Particular.

    Same is happening today. There are many who don’t like Vettel and many who do. To me because of this F1 is a winner as it adds to the publicity. Lot of People will tune in to Qualifying and the race hoping to see Vettel losing or not capturing the pole !!!!!

  6. Paul Kirk said on 17th September 2011, 0:12

    I just wish Mark Webber was sharing some of the success the RB is giving Wettal, but they make sure that won’t happen.
    PK.

  7. Victorface (@victorface) said on 17th September 2011, 1:37

    2011 has had a wealth of on track action though sometimes a bit contrived. Despite the great races, the championship (non) battle has rendered much of the racing empty feeling. The wealth of direct confrontation on the tarmac between the top drivers is lacking in tension because they seem to have little context.

    Compare this to the racing in 2010. Overtaking moves, however sparse they were, had an extra quality of tension to them because they were significant in the grand scheme of things, the championship. As anticlimactic as Abu Dhabi 2010 was, something like watching the most hyped World Cup final ever, only to see it resulting in a 1-0, the only goal being an own goal, the race was still dramatic due to its significance toward the ultimate prize.

    As close as the battle for 2nd is in 2011, as competitive if not more competitive than in 2010, 2nd place is still infinitely less glamorous than 1st.

    I do believe fans of F1 have been a little spoiled by the gem of a championship that was 2010. We must be thankful that a season like 2010 occurred and unfolded organically, the only interventions carried out by the teams, the drivers, chance, and thankfully not the FIA (it’s not 2003 or 2006 anymore!).

    Let’s hope everyone steps up their game. Remember that no team stays on top forever.

  8. Mr.Zing Zang said on 17th September 2011, 2:36

    The races have been OK… but Vettel’s race is boring because all the races he won are practically won from the first 5 laps and then he races into the distance all by himself… nobody to battle with.. all alone until the cameras come back on him at the finish line..

    BOOOOORING!!! (For Vettel that is).

    Give me some Hamilton fighting Alonso any day over this!

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 17th September 2011, 4:43

      What about Vettel vs Alonso at Monaco, Hungary and Italy?

      • Mr.Zing Zang said on 17th September 2011, 19:32

        Refresh our memories. I can’t quite recall those forgettable moments, those were “fights” or just one guy punching the gas and letting the down force do the work? heh.

        • David A said on 17th September 2011, 22:05

          They were fights, and the only reason to claim otherwise is to fuel the tired belief that he can’t win under pressure/overtake.

  9. Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 17th September 2011, 4:24

    From a Schumacher fan’s perspective, I obviously didn’t find 2000-2004 boring at all. :D

    But even then, I’d agree with Keith’s main point, and you’d have to be blind to think 2011 isn’t better in terms of racing and excitement that you’d find for most of that period (late 2000 being a key exception). Yes, both saw tough midfield battles, but 2011 battles feature proper overtaking instead of flimsy passing in the pits.

    That said, I do disagree with Keith’s point that it’s easier to appreciate what Vettel is doing. Both Vettel and Schumacher prefer controlling races from the front, thanks to a very quick car and a team molded around them. Some of the circumstances may have changed (like the single tyre supplier we have now), but I think most fans wouldn’t see the two drivers’ approach any differently, and both are appreciated (or criticized) equally.

  10. wasiF1 said on 17th September 2011, 4:41

    One thing for sure in 9 years of watching F1 I can’t remember a better F1 season with so much on track action then 2011.I hope the momentum continues.

  11. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th September 2011, 8:45

    Excellent article, Keith.

    I’ve spent a lot of time defending Vettel this year, for a few reasons. For one, because there is nothing we can do about his dominance so it makes no sense to get upset about it so just enjoy it!

    The sport has the formula pretty much bang on at the moment, like MG said above. Even DRS is a step in the right direction. For those who seemingly want to slate it, they should appreciate that the sport is at least listening to the fans and reacting. Please, don’t be so harsh.

    One thing that stands out in my mind is peoples short attention span. 2010 was a fairytale race for the championship yet people act like Vettel already has the dominance that Schumacher enjoyed. Sometimes, just sometimes, someone is actually good enough to absolutely decimate the field and I believe Vettel is that man. Enjoy it!

  12. “I don’t understand why people are complaining about ‘boring’ championships.” Is like saying I don’t understand why people complain about a lack of overtaking.

    The problem is there is a lack of competition in F1 compared to other motorsport categories. F1 is the Spanish League of football, only two teams are good enough it lacks competition.

    It really says something when bookies are handing out money after the spanish grand prix! I’ll say this if next year vettel dominates again like this I won’t be too bothered about seeing 10 races per year on the BBC.

  13. What people forget is that not that many had internet access in the 1990′s,especially Europe was way behind USA and Australia.Also we didn’t have sites like this one to discuss F1.Only the TV and radio and magazines.

    Mansell,Senna,Hill,part of Schumacher careers etc~~ fans couldn’t discuss F1 at all,only in letters printed in the racing Magazines.

    There was a long gap between Schumi’s WDC’s,because after Bennetton he went to Ferrari,and he struggled for years to bring that team to where it was when he left.So let us not be critical about Vettel but it would be nice to know which team he will “choose”go to post RB.:)

  14. Not boring for me even Vettel is dominating, as I’ve taken it race by race which helps a lot though. Felt there were many good races. Singapore should be exciting. Six more races and 2012 will be here all too soon.

  15. Lord Ha Ha said on 17th September 2011, 12:49

    Webber’s on notice … http://www.smh.com.au/sport/motorsport/webber-challenge-at-the-start-grid-20110916-1kdsz.html
    F1 is too, drop the software starts and engine “drive-ability” cornering.

    • Palle (@palle) said on 18th September 2011, 7:43

      “Webber said the majority of fans wouldn’t understand the technical complexity involved in making a start in a modern seven-speed formula one car.”

      Try us Webber!

      But its probably Webber who doesn’t quite understand the technical complexity involved. He also claims that the driver has no control over the temperature of the clutch! Of all drivers I get the impression he has failed most starts this year and he also failed some last year.

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