Sebastian Vettel has been so dominant over the last four seasons it’s been suggested that it’s only a matter of time before he overhauls Michael Schumacher’s major records in the sport. But that’s not particularly realistic. Let’s take a look at how things stand right now:
Now let’s look at each of these categories separately:
Vettel is four World Championships behind Michael Schumacher in the record list. That’s the equivalent of the entire career of Alain Prost, who is certainly among the all-time greats. Even assuming Vettel wins the 2013 Drivers’ Championship (which looks pretty much inevitable at this stage of the season), Vettel will still have to win another three titles just to match Schumacher, nevermind exceed his achievements.
Consider the drivers who have finished their F1 careers with three titles: Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. That’s a formidable list. Vettel has already matched the championship tally of each of these drivers, and won more races than all but Senna, but the task of Vettel doing it all again is a rather tall order indeed.
It’s not fair to Vettel to expect him to overhaul Schumacher’s championship tally. He’s looking set to equal Prost on four. Perhaps he’ll be in a position to win another one and equal Fangio. It’s much too early to start talking about Schumacher’s seven titles.
Vettel is currently fourth on the list of all-time winners with 33 victories. Schumacher won 91 races, 58 more than Vettel has so far in his F1 career. 58 wins is more than second-placed man Alain Prost won in his career (Prost won 51). So far, Vettel has won 28.95% of the races he has entered. At that rate, he would have to compete for another 200 races to match Schumacher’s victory tally. 200 races is close to double Vettel’s career so far. It’s so far away from being realistic that it’s not worth discussing further for at least another 5 years.
Schumacher stood on the podium 155 times. Vettel has so far appeared on the podium 56 times. That’s a difference of 99 podiums, more than Fernando Alonso has achieved in his career, and Alonso is third in that particular all-time list.
Vettel is very far away from matching Schumacher’s podium finishes. Again, let’s come back to this one in a few years.
At last, here’s a record that Vettel seems likely to challenge in his career. Schumacher’s tally of 68 pole positions is only 27 successful qualifying sessions away for Vettel. If Red Bull continue to produce cars as stunningly fast as those Vettel has raced for the past four seasons, Vettel could (in theory) beat Schumacher’s pole position tally by the end of 2014. He’d have to take pole at every race between now and then, which is not likely. But it does seem inevitable that Vettel will break this particular Schumacher record at some point.
In only his seventh season of Formula One, Vettel has already put himself third in the all-time list of polesitters. He has only Senna (on 65) and Schumacher ahead. It’s a fairly safe bet that the pole position record will have Vettel’s name on it within the next five years, and perhaps a bit sooner than that.
Surprisingly, Vettel is not even in the top ten when it comes to setting fastest race laps. He’s recorded just 19, compared to Schumacher’s mammoth total of 77. In fairness to Vettel, his career has taken place almost entirely in the post-refueling era, which makes it much less obvious that the fastest lap should go to the driver of the fastest car. Schumacher was famous for delivering qualifying-style laps just before he pitted for fuel in his Ferrari career, which explains his rather huge fastest lap record (second on the list is Prost on “only” 41). But those days are done, for now at least. If refueling reappears during Vettel’s career, then he might begin to approach this record.
As things stand, Vettel would have to have a very long career indeed to catch up the 58 fastest laps by which he currently trails Schumacher.
Vettel is a great driver. Even at the rather youthful age of 26, he’s worthy of consideration for inclusion in any list of the top 5 drivers of all time. He looks set to feature at the front in Formula One for as long as he is inclined to be a part of the sport. But it’s far too early in his career to be talking about Schumacher’s records, with the possible exception of the pole position record.