Sebastian Vettel has made history in Brazil, becoming the youngest ever triple World Champion and only the third driver in history to win three consecutive titles – after Juan Manual Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
When he made contact with Bruno Senna on the first lap and found himself facing the wrong way with damage to his left side pod, Vettel could have been forgiven for thinking his championship was gone. But instead he produced a true champion’s drive from the back of the field to finish sixth, negotiating weather changes, several overtaking moves and communication problems with his team after a partial radio failure.
Fernando Alonso was Vettel’s only remaining title challenger, and the Spaniard made the most of his car and on-track opportunities to finish a superb second in the race. Unfortunately for Alonso, it was not enough to take the title, and he finished three points behind Vettel.
Nonetheless, Alonso’s class has been displayed throughout the entire season. From beginning to end, he has been the benchmark for the rest of the field. The 2012 Ferrari has just not been quick enough, particularly in qualifying, but Alonso has delivered results seemingly beyond the car’s capabilities and came tantalisingly close to snatching the title away from Vettel.
The 2012 championship has revealed two very different cultures in two very different teams. At Ferrari, there is very much a family atmosphere, with the drivers obviously working together for the best possible team result. Massa has been vocal in his support of Alonso’s championship bid for some time, and the Brazilian played a crucial role in helping Alonso to finish second in today’s race. By contrast, at Red Bull Mark Webber has never shown public support for Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes, even after Webber himself fell out of the title race. In today’s race, Webber did let Vettel through fairly easily on the track, but was otherwise not involved at all in his team-mate’s success.
Vettel’s success elevates him into a very special group of drivers – the triple World Champions. He joins Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, an illustrious group if ever there was one. Ahead in the record books are Alain Prost on four titles, Juan Manuel Fangio on five, and Michael Schumacher with seven World Drivers’ Championships. At only 25 years old, Vettel is the youngest of the triple World Champions by six years, and has plenty of time left in his career to add to his astonishing list of achievements.
2012 has been possibly the most thrilling season in Formula One history. The first seven races saw seven different winners in five different cars powered by three different engines. When the order settled down, Alonso emerged as the dominant driver, but ultimately he had no response to the technical developments that took place at Red Bull, and Sebastian Vettel’s mesmerising speed delivered four race wins in a row to take the lead in the championship. The title has gone down to the last race, and even to the last few laps, providing plenty of excitement for millions of Formula One fans worldwide. At the end of the year, Vettel is a deserving Drivers’ Champion, and Red Bull are worthy Constructors’s Champions.
Red Bull have been referred to the stewards at the German Grand Prix for having illegal engine maps.
FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer examined the engine maps on both RB8 cars and considered them to be in breach of Article 5.5.3 of the 2012 Formula One Technical Regulations as he found the maximum torque output in a certain range of revs to be significantly less than the engines are known to be capable of producing.
In addition, Jo Bauer considered that the illegal engine maps would also alter the aerodynamic characteristics of the cars, which is illegal under this season’s regulations.
The stewards are currently looking into the potential breach, which could result in penalties for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. If the cars are found to be illegal, Vettel and Webber may be excluded from the results of qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid. They may even be required to start from the pitlane, as they would be required to change the engine maps for the race, which would put them in breach of parc ferme regulations.
It seems unlikely that the Red Bulls will not be allowed to race.
At Monaco on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel started the race on the prime tyres, when the rest of the top 10 were on the option tyres. The prime tyre is more durable, which meant that Vettel could pit quite a bit later than those who started ahead of him.
When the front-runners pitted, Vettel found himself inheriting the lead, and he duly extended it, pulling away from fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber with ease. It was at that point that the speculation started: was Webber backing the pack up to help Vettel?
Webber himself has dismissed claims that he was assisting Vettel, but the denial is not really necessary. If Red Bull were trying to push Vettel forward, they could have gone for a one-two, rather than fourth place.
The likely implementation of team orders would have been to have Webber hold the field up enough to get Vettel out in the lead after his pitstop, and then have the Red Bull drivers switch places on the track, creating a one-two and giving the win to the more dominant driver on the weekend. Team orders are legal, so the strategy would have been allowed. It would also have been a public declaration of dominance by the World Champions.
Red Bull didn’t do it like that, and the reason is simple: They know, as everyone else in racing knows, that wins are precious. You don’t mess around with the race lead, unless your drivers are already running in genuine, dominant, first and second places. Vettel was out of position, having not pitted, and Webber was already under pressure from those behind him. Any attempt to over-manipulate the race would likely have ended badly.
Webber himself said of the rumours of assistance: “The problem with trying to do that would be that you’re exposing yourself to even more pressure from the guys behind – Nico and Fernando in this case. And then the boys in the pits might mess up Seb’s stop and it would all be for nothing. You always get bitten on the bum when you get fancy. So you just don’t try.”
The rumours have distracted attention from what was, in the end, a very clever strategy by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Vettel started ninth and finished fourth, all because he didn’t run in Q3 and could therefore start on the prime tyres. Red Bull should be applauded for putting together a very successful race weekend.
Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the podium with an emphatic victory in Bahrain. The double World Champion has had a difficult start to the season, but silenced his doubters by taking pole position yesterday and driving a faultless race to victory this afternoon. The perfect weekend for Vettel sees him at the top of the points standings for the first time this season.
Only Lotus had an answer to the pace of Vettel, with Kimi Raikkonen challenging for the lead before the last round of pitstops. Unfortunately for the Finn, he was unable to keep pace with Vettel once the Red Bull driver was on fresh tyres, and Raikkonen finished the race in second, his strongest result since returning to Formula One in Australia this season. Team-mate Romain Grosjean finished third for his first Formula One podium, completing an impressive weekend in which he outqualified Raikkonen and led his team-mate in the early stage of the race. His joy was evident on the podium and again in the post-race interview as he smiled broadly during the proceedings.
Mark Webber scored his fourth consecutive fourth place, which makes it four Renault engines in the top four, a surprising result given that the Mercedes engine is considered better for straight-line speed and the Bahrain circuit has two long straights.
Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg could only manage fifth place today, recovering after a slow start that saw him lose a few places in the first corner. Rosberg will be the subject of two investigations by the stewards after the race, after on-track battles with Hamilton and Alonso saw both opponents running off the track to avoid contact with the Mercedes driver.
McLaren had a miserable afternoon. Lewis Hamilton had two very slow pitstops, both due to problems with his left-rear tyre, which pushed him down the order. Some good aggressive driving saw him finish in eighth, although that could change if the stewards find him guilty of passing Nico Rosberg outside the limits of the track. Jenson Button’s afternoon came to a premature end with a cracked exhaust.
Paul di Resta made a two-stop strategy work well to finish sixth, a good result for Force India. Alonso fought hard to finish seventh, with team-mate Mass scoring his first points of the season in ninth after a strong drive. Michael Schumacher rounded out the top ten after a solid drive from 22nd on the grid.
This weekend concluded the first round of fly-away races. The Formula One teams now return home, in advance of the first European race in Barcelona on 13 May.