On the podium after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, interviewer David Coulthard asked race winner Sebastian Vettel to show the cameras a lucky charm on his racing boots. Vettel casually lifted his leg a little, dropped it and said “I don’t get my legs so high, because I’m not a woman.”
Exactly what Vettel meant is uncertain, but the world is going to interpret his comment as suggestive and demeaning. Earlier in the podium interviews, Vettel remarked that, “to have a woman on the podium, I think it’s not happening every day. Gill Jones, she takes care of our electronics in the team… she looks after the boys.” The suggestion that women have a place in F1 only in support of the men is unlikely to make Vettel any friends, both within and outside of the sport.
In the wake of recent sugestions by Sir Stirling Moss that women lack the mental aptitude to race in Formula One, Vettel’s comments are likely to get much more attention than they perhaps deserve. He is in a sport that needs a radical rethink regarding its approach to gender equality, and has not helped an already sensitive situation by publicly putting his foot in his mouth.
Yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix delivered some controversy, at least within the Red Bull team. Against team orders, Sebastian Vettel passed Mark Webber – banging wheels with his team-mate along the way – and went on to win the race. Webber was understandably furious afterwards, as was Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Vettel has been roundly criticised in the media, with some going as far as to question his morals. I don’t see how disobeying a team order has much to do with morality, but I do understand what drove Sebastian Vettel to risk the internal harmony of his team in pursuit of victory.
Vettel is a champion. That’s not referring to his achievements, but rather to his approach to everything he does. He wins. All the time. His preparation is meticulous, his attention to detail reminiscent of Michael Schumacher at his peak, and his performance on the track is almost always flawless. Vettel is capable only of domination. He knows no other way.
So when his team principal tells him not to win, as happened yesterday in Malaysia, there is no chance he will obey that instruction. He knows perfectly well how important his victory at Sepang could prove to be in the greater scheme of this year’s championship. Although it is too early in the season to know who will challenge for the title, every result counts. A victory is not more or less important depending on when it occurs during the season or whether or not the team management supported it.
The 2013 Red Bull RB9 could well prove to be the fastest car in the field. If that is the case, then Vettel’s main rival for the championship will be his own team-mate. Looking at yesterday’s drama from that perspective, Webber showed a major chink in his armour – he thought that Vettel, easily the dominant driver of his generation, would stop wanting to win just because his team said he should. Webber let his guard down, and Vettel took the advantage that was presented to him.
It doesn’t matter to Vettel that his team told him to finish second. He broke no rules of Formula One. His points cannot be taken away; the victory is valid. If the team doesn’t like the situation, they are certainly not going to fire him – he’s won the title three years running, what kind of fool team boss would kick him out? If anyone leaves, it will be Webber, and that will be to his own detriment.
Vettel’s actions may be unpopular, but they show a ruthlessness that could very well take this remarkable 25-year old German to a fourth consecutive World Championship this season, and perhaps on to just about every record in the sport by the end of his career. Vettel is not in Formula One to be liked. He is there to win. And in the words of Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest of all Formula One drivers, “Nice men don’t win.”
Romain Grosjean is the 2012 Champion of Champions, after triumphing against a host of enormous names in motorsport. Grosjean defeated eight-time Le Mans 24-Hour winner Tom Kristensen 2-0 in the final of the individual competition.
There is no easy path to victory at the Race of Champions – with the best of the best from all motorsport disciplines competing, every race is tough and each victory along the way hard-earned. But Grosjean had, if anything, the most difficult possible path to the final. In the group stages, he was up against seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher, current Indycar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and RoC Asia runner-up Kazuya Ohshima. Despite losing narrowly to Schumacher, Grosjean beat Hunter-Reay and Ohshima to proceed to the knock-out stages.
After the group stages, Grosjean’s path to victory became even more difficult. He was matched up against current triple Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the third quarter final, and was arguably not expected to proceed to the semi-finals. But an uncharacteristic error from Vettel – which shows just how hard he had to push against Grosjean – meant the German crashed out, and set-up a Grosjean-Schumacher semi-final. Grosjean avenged his earlier defeat to Schumacher by knocking the legendary German out of the competition.
The final was a best of three affair between Grosjean and Tom Kristensen. Kristensen had beaten last year’s winner Sebastian Ogier and former Formula One driver David Coulthard en route to the final, proving his speed in the process. But he was no match for Grosjean, who needed only two heats to seal his victory and become 2012 Champion of Champions.
After a mixed season in Formula One – with three podiums, a number of crashes and a race ban for causing a pile-up at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix – Grosjean was relieved to end the year with a victory. The young Frenchman said, “That’s what I’d call a crazy day! It got a bit tough in the group stages but I managed to make it through. Then I had to face Sebastian Vettel in the quarter-final before Michael Schumacher in the semi-final – the two Germans who beat us in yesterday’s RoC Nations Cup final. Then I had the final with Tom. We’ve had a good history at this event and I’ve raced him before so it was good to face him in the final. I got a bit of extra luck to be in the right car at the right time but it felt good.
“It’s been a tough end to the F1 season but I finally got back on the podium yesterday, and now this! It’s great to get this win before I head off for a holiday. Thanks to everyone in Thailand because the welcome has been fantastic.”
Grosjean has not yet been confirmed at Lotus for the 2013 Formula One season, but will be hoping for a favourable announcement from his team soon.
Lewis Hamilton believes that newly crowned triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel is likely to make it four in a row with another championship win in 2013, and cited the skills of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey as a major factor in that expected success.
Vettel is only 25 years old, and yet his stats are already staggeringly impressive: Three championships, 26 wins and 36 pole positions from only 101 races. At the rate he is going, Vettel could even challenge the achievements of recently retired legend Michael Schumacher.
Formula One is an extremely technical sport, which places massive emphasis on car competitiveness. Schumacher’s three difficult years with Mercedes have shown just how difficult it is to achieve success in an under-performing car. Vettel has had the quickest car, or close to it, for his three championship-winning seasons, and much of that advantage is down to Adrian Newey.
Newey has been designing winning cars for over 20 years, at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull. His input at Red Bull has transformed the team into a powerhouse with dominance similar to that of Ferrari ten years ago. And Newey has shown no signs of leaving, which bodes well for Red Bull.
When asked by Sky Sports News about next year’s championship, Hamilton was clear about his expectations for Vettel and Red Bull:
“It’s going to be hard to beat Sebastian next year,” Hamilton said. “I think Sebastian’s going to have another amazing car.
“The car he had this year was fantastic. It’s going to be an evolution of that next year.
“Adrian only seems to get better with age; I think he’s going to do something pretty special next year as well.”
While Newey is likely to produce a good car again, he has acknowledged that it will be difficult to find aerodynamic gains with the current stable regulations:
“It is increasingly difficult because there are no real regulations changes compared to this year and it will be the fifth season since the 2009 rule changes… The field is converging and you can see how competitive it is in the fact that we had eight different winners this year,” Newey told Autosport.
Hamilton has not talked up his own title chances, largely due to the lack of pace shown by his new team, Mercedes, in the 2012 season. Mercedes won only won race, in China, and had a thoroughly uncompetitive end to the season. So it comes as no real surprise that Hamilton would deflect attention from himself by predicting more success for Vettel. Better to be the surprise winner than to forecast glory and then taste defeat.
In his first career, Michael Schumacher developed a special relationship with Ferrari, the team he took to an astonishing five consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. On his website yesterday, Schumacher congratulated his friend Sebastian Vettel on winning an historic third title, and expressed his continued affection for Ferrari:
“Now that the dust has settled, I would like to again congratulate Sebastian on winning his third world championship. It was certainly a nerve-wracking race for him and he brought the season to a masterful end . I have known this guy so long and like him a lot; I am really pleased for him. For me, the right man won the drivers’ championship.
“On the other hand, of course, I felt very sorry for the Ferrari team, to whom I still have such a close connection. For this season, I would have much preferred to see the Constructors’ Champions wearing red…”