I believe concistency is one of the biggest points to take into consideration when comparing driver performances out of different cars. Based on some number crunching I did, these are a few conclusions one can come to about the Red Bull F1 car’s performances since 2009 and Vettel’s role in it.
1) When Vettel arrived at RBR, he came from a Toro Rosso who had finished the 2008 season fairly stronger than their mother team. Since his arrival in 2009, Red Bull Racing has had one of the best 3 cars in each race. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is the only other team that can say the same about their cars.
2) Towards the end of the season, Red Bull had developed into the best car on the grid.
3) 2010 was Red Bull’s most dominant season, in general. That Vettel “only” clinched the title in the last races, due to concentrated and clinical performances and a show of nerves of steel, was partly his fault, and partly (mostly even) due to poor reliablility in his car. He could (should) have dominated that season completely if he had had more luck and made less mistakes.
4) 2011, the Red Bull was less dominating thatn 2010, in sheer speed. It was the pole-win strategy perfected by the team and executed perfectly by their best driver that gave Vettel such a dominant year. But even in 2011, Ferrari had basically the same race pace as Red Bull, in almost all races. And McLaren were only marginally second to the Red Bull. Past Formula One seasons (80s, 90s) have had much huger differences between cars than the last few seasons. This title was only possible because of Vettel’s ability to do what he has shown to to best (even shown once in a Toro Rosso) – to make pole and control the race. Mark Webber wouldn’t have won that title, Hamilton would have, and Alonso probably too, but not as dominant (pure speculation, of course).
4) 2012 has seen the Red Bull rarely dominanting (minus four of the last five races). It is, in fact, their weakest season overall since (and maybe including) 2009. Consitency has made the difference for Vettel, who hung in there, scoring points mostly wherever possible (what Alonso has shown to do even better, maybe); now that his car is top again (although I do get the feeling McLaren was slightly stronger at Yas Marina, making his auditious pass on Button even more impressive), he was in a position to capitalize on that. Clearly the car has something to do with that, but Vettel’s merit is enough to make him a worthy three-time WDC if the manages it. Austin will be good for him, because he does extremely well on new circuits. And Brazil should be fascinating. Great season.
A word to Alonso. He has had an incredible season, and credit is due here. But the Ferrari has performed ok in most races, most of the time with the capacity to match the leader’s pace during the race. Saturday qualies are due to the car, sure, but I’m starting to believe that Alonso is not a particularly good qualifier. How was his record in 2007, when he had the best car on the grid? Can anyone look that up?