We Need To Talk About Seb: What is Happening to Sebastian Vettel?
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
The British Grand Prix has been and gone for another year with Hamilton delivering again when he needed to most, claiming his record 6th British GP victory. However, in the scarlet red garage next to the silver arrows a tale of disappointment and underachievment became ever more apparent on Sunday. Sebastian Vettel's growing and worrying list of mistakes grew as he crashed into the back of Red Bull's Max Verstappen sending the Ferrari man plummeting down the field and Max recovering to a miracle 5th place. It marked yet another uncharacteristic error from the 4 time world champion with many in the paddock are asking, what is going on with Sebastian?
The story of Sebastian and Ferrari has been largely one of so close yet so far. Joining the team during their transitional phase in 2015, the German breathed new life and energy into the flagging Scuderia after the tumultuous relationship with Fernando Alonso ended. It seemed the partnership would finally deliver a world championship to the team after nearly 10 years without one (Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 being the last). Electric in the car for 2017 and full of optimism and assured the final pieces of the jigsaw were finally being put in place, Sebastian and Ferrari came into 2018 confident the title would finally be coming home to Italy.
However, the German GP of 2018 became the turning point for Ferrari, the attitude within the team and Sebastian himself. Leading the Grand Prix in tricky mixed dry/wet conditions, Vettel crashed out and his title chances soon met the same fate. Ever since the iconic moment the following 12 months have demonstrated the seismic shift that has happened to the team since that day Hamilton took control of the championship. Further mistake surfaced at Monza that year but the image of Vettel walking away from his stricken Ferrari has come to mark the turning point for the team as they look to the future. For Sebastian that lapse of concentration around the fabled Hockenheim circuit looks likely to become the moment that visualises his time with the Scuderia.
Moving out of the disappointment of the 2nd half of 2018, 2019 testing looked incredibly promising for the Ferrari team. Footage shown across social media highlighted the differences between Ferrari and the Mercedes. Ferrari's car looked planted, assured on entry, balanced mid corner and provided the confidence to hit the throttle on exit while the Mercedes, although quick, looked twitchy and unstable, nervous mid corner and the driver visibly fighting the car to produce lap time. Fans anticipate that this could be the year to finally usurp the Silver Arrows dominance during the Hybrid era.
For Sebastian the new season also brought new challenges. The ever solid Kimi Raikkonen was replaced by the fiery Frenchman of Charles Leclerc, one of a number of drivers who are deemed the future of the sport. Potentially a risky move for Ferrari, the raw pace that Leclerc demonstrated last year was too much to pass up and Ferrari swooped him up into the car next to Vettel. The scene was set for an epic showdown between Mercedes and Ferrari and finally give a truly classic season, one that fans have ached for.
However, halfway through 2019 and the story of the season can be told by looking at the driver standings. A two horse race for the title between Hamilton and Bottas seems the likely outcome with the pair running away from the Ferrari's and the Red Bull of Verstappen, who at the time of writing sits above both Vettel and Leclerc.
For Vettel the pressure has been mounting, frustration building in the cockpit and the cacophony of noise, pressure and expectation finally starting to highlight the cracks that lie within the German. To move past a difficult 2nd half of 2018 and start afresh for the new season was the attitude that Vettel needed to take, but it seems the ramifications of that turbulent time are echoing onto the track.
Bahrain 2019 Vettel spun his Ferrari after a battle with Hamilton, with the German losing the rear and his chances of finishing in front of the Mercedes. The now infamous Canada 2019 incident that saw a titanic battle between Vettel and Hamilton spoiled by the penalty Sebastian received for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. Whatever the opinion of the decision by the stewards there was no mistaking that it was yet another error under pressure for Vettel. Turning into the tricky chicane of turn 3 and 4, a back marker in front of Vettel meant reduced downforce and on turn in Sebastian lost the rear, took to the grass and rejoined without hitting Hamilton.
The backlash from the penalty seemed to work in Vettel's favour with many in the paddock believing the penalty to be harsh. It took away from the real joys of racing, the battles the ensue from it and questioned the integrity of what drivers can, can't and should do. Even Hamilton conceded that Vettel did everything in his power to control the Ferrari and bring it back onto track with impeding the Mercedes, but to the stewards it was not enough.
After a sterling drive in Austria to alleviate the disappointment of qualifying, Vettel came into the British GP full of hope and expectation. Austria might have proved an anomaly for Mercedes as cooling issues effected their performance, but for Vettel the drive was one of the high points of his season and something to build upon.
However, off the pace all weekend and struggling with the Ferrari's tendency for understeer, the German reached a nadir in his sequence of mistakes by crashing into the back of Max Verstappen, ruining his race and very fortunate not to retire the Dutchman. Vettel is struggling to maximise the performance of the Ferrari thanks to the design philosophy not suiting the 4 time world champion, and while Leclerc was dragging performance from the car around Silverstone Vettel struggled and seemed despondent and flat all weekend, culminating in the error.
The backlash from the incident will only add fuel to the fire that Vettel will retire once his contract expires. The questions of his performances will only grow louder and with Leclerc starting to feel at home in his new surrounding Vettel needs to reassess where he is at and where he needs to be.
So with that, it begs the question, what next for Sebastian?
With the previous mentioned rumours circulating around the paddock that Vettel will retire, it's realistic to state that Sebastian is beginning the journey toward the twilight of his F1 career. Recently married and after turning 32, he may see to emulate Nico Rosberg in bowing out before the end to enjoy life and take the next step into the rest of his career. If he does decide to stay in Ferrari he needs to start delivering the performance that earned him the drive in the first place. You don't become 4 time world champion without being an excellent driver so he has that potential, it all depends on whether the fire, hunger and desire is still there for the German.
An option past 2020 for Vettel is a return to the beacon of his dominance with Red Bull. With Verstappen potentially looking at a Mercedes drive in the future, ending his career with the team that started it all may seem poetic and a way to bow out the sport with integrity and respect. However, Red Bull focus on their young driver program and bringing Vettel back for the last few spins of the carousel goes against their philosophy and may decide it wouldn't be worth anyone's time.
Whatever happens for Vettel, he moved to Ferrari to emulate his hero Michael Schumacher, to bring him glory and replicate the success his fellow German produced. But the pressures and expectations that come with driving for the Scuderia seem to catching up to Sebastian. While Schumacher's achievements look ever more incredible in light of what is happening to Sebastian, Vettel needs to re-evaluate, reassess what he wants and look to the future rather than looking to the past.