Last year Sebastian Vettel won his first world championship in spite of occasional shortcomings in his driving and the reliability of his car.
This year the pair complemented each other perfectly: fast, near-faultless and, in Vettel’s case, utterly fearless.
At one point he remarked that the performance advantage he enjoyed with the RB7 this year was not as great as he’d had with the RB6 last year. Given that he won this year’s championship by 122 points and last year’s by just four, that may seem a surprising claim.
But looking at the relative performance of the cars it does appear to have been the case, certainly in the first half of this year.
Having won as he pleased in the first two races, he lost to Hamilton in China, running a weak strategy and struggling with KERS and radio problems.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||16/19|
|Beat team mate in race||15/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||918/1030|
In Monaco and Spain he won after enduring massive pressure from the drivers behind him. He nearly won again in similar circumstances in Canada only to run wide on the final lap, allowing Jenson Button through to win.
Having made several more high-profile errors last year, this was about as bad as it got for Vettel in 2011 – and he still finished second. When he did crash the car it was almost always during practice – as happened in Turkey, Canada, Japan and Abu Dhabi – and it rarely hindered his performance.
In the run-up to the summer break Vettel’s win rate slowed – he won just one of the five races as McLaren and Ferrari seemed to be in the ascendancy. He never looked comfortable in his home race at the Nurburgring, where the team tried a new suspension configuration. It was the only race he finished all year outside of the top three.
He remained unhappy with the car in practice for the next race in Hungary and pressed the team to make wholesale changes overnight. These were done, and he duly put the car on pole position.
He finished the race second, and on the slowing-down lap, with the summer break ahead of him, he gave an insight into his uncompromising thirst for victory as he brushed off the consoling words of his race engineer.
“Just think how Hamilton and Webber must be feeling,” said Guillaume Rocquelin, “You finished ahead of Alonso, Hamilton and Webber today. It was a good day.”
“But I want to win,” replied Vettel.
Vettel returned from the summer break stronger than ever. Any hopes his rivals entertained that Red Bull might struggle at the high-speed Spa and Monza tracks were dispelled as he won both from pole position.
In these races he also gave the lie to doubts about his overtaking prowess. He danced around the outside of Nico Rosberg at Blanchimont at Spa. When Alonso forced him onto the grass at the outside of Monza’s flat-out Curva Grance, Vettel didn’t flinch, took the lead and was on his way to another victory.
After that he won as he pleased in Singapore and played the percentages in Japan to seal the title with four races still to go.
This was one of the earliest ever championship conclusions, despite the changes made to the points system. He also broke the record for most pole positions in a season and won more races than anyone bar Michael Schumacher in 2004.
But if the regularity of his success became monotonous, the often slender margin between him and his rivals in qualifying showed that this wasn’t just the case of a driver enjoying a significant performance advantage in his car.
The scale of his superiority over Mark Webber, who almost ended the season winless, rammed that message home.
It was by any measure a staggering performance. Vettel was a considerable force when he won his first championship but he raised his game in almost every area in 2011. The prospect of this man driving an Adrian Newey-designed car for the foreseeable future is a grim thought for his rivals.
F1 Fanatics on Sebastian Vettel
He won the world championship, making the best use of his machinery all season.
Sebastian showed that his racecraft has improved significantly (like passing Alonso at Curva Grande and Rosberg at Blanchimont), and he is capable of taking wins under huge pressure as well (Monaco and Spain). Asserted himself as one of the best qualifiers in the history of the sport. And still only 24.
Just in a class of his own. You only have to look at the difference between him and Webber (who is no slouch) over qualifying and the race. It proves to me that it is not just the car that is quick.
What impresses me the most about Vettel is his qualifying speed and how he just turns it on when he needs to. Also the first few laps of the race he manages to pull out a gap of over a second normally which is just crazy.
I started the year in utter contempt for Seb who I thought did not deserve to be a world champion.
But as each qualifying session went by contempt turned into disbelief and disbelief into awe as each time he pulled something out of the bag to stand on pole and on the winners spot. Seb takes first place for me.
The sheer numbers of his season could be enough to put him in the number one spot. But to me, what really made him “the” driver this year is the way he dominated Webber.
It is easy to say he was just doing his job with in the fastest car of the field, but the way his team mate looked ordinary in the same machinery tells me that Vettel really made the difference and maximized the potential of the car. His ability to learn from his mistakes is simply incredible, and he can only get better.
Best driver all year by a mile. He did it all and dispelled all the aspects of his driving that some people were suspect about.
His drive in Barcelona was absolutely top drawer, making critical overtakes after his pit stop and holding back Hamilton in a faster McLaren for several laps. Monaco was another lesson in calm driving to hold off faster cars, and his qualifying laps have been extra special. A real privilege to watch this year.
Vettel probably made the Red Bull look faster than it actually was this year. I didn?óÔé¼Ôäót even know that was possible!
The 15 poles and amazing composure in stressful situations has put Sebastian as a force to be reckoned with. With the exception of his last lap in Canada, and off day at the Nurburgring, Sebastian was flawless all season.
He was dominant, getting everything out of both himself and the car at almost every opportunity. Peerless in qualifying and a racecraft that has, in my opinion, become one of the top three with Alonso and Hamilton. A deserved second world championship, trouncing a tough team mate in Mark Webber to boot.
2011 F1 season review
- The 2011 F1 season: The complete F1 Fanatic review
- Your 2011 F1 predictions revisited
- 2011 F1 statistics part 3: Stats and facts highlights
- 2011 F1 statistics part two: Vettel’s domination
- 2011 F1 statistics part one: car performance
- New 2011 rules produced best racing of last four years
- What F1 Fanatics really thought of the 2011 season
- Sebastian Vettel voted F1 Fanatic Driver of the Year
- F1 Fanatic’s article highlights of 2011
- Dominant Red Bull join F1’s top teams
Images ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images