Odds Are Against Vettel Surpassing Schumacher
When Niki Lauda and others say that Sebastian Vettel can surpass Michael Schumacher’s 7 World Formula One titles, what they’re saying is it’s possible, not necessarily probable. When you read the European motoring press headlines, they’re usually taken out of context in order to create sensationalism that readers will want to dig into. Reality is something else entirely.
Niki Lauda actually said that it’s possible and mathematically it is, it just isn’t likely in todays Formula One landscape. You have to look out on the horizon and see just whom he’s up against, both drivers and teams.
Sebastian Vettel is locked into Red Bull until 2014, in Formula One post Ferrari-Schumacher, that’s an eternity. Ferrari and McLaren have no intention of allowing Red Bull to continue to dominate, Adrian Newey or not. They might, but it’s getting harder to pull it off. Think Brawn.
If Red Bull stumbles in 2012 and doesn’t deliver a car suitable for Vettel in 2012 and 2013, then two years will have gone asunder. Where he would go after 2013 is irrelevant if he can’t deliver two more titles in two years. Yes, he would only be 28, but in Formula One, he has to make exactly the right move to exactly the right team at the right time. Add in another little problem in making a decision, the engines will no longer be V8’s but rather V6 Turbocharged power-plants. But wait, don’t answer, this is Formula One, it could be a four cylinder engines yet.
Timing is more in play now than it was in the Schumacher era. Schumacher’s competitors, Mika Haikkinen excluded, were not at the levels of ability and team technical prowess they are now, so Vettel doesn’t merely have to show up and drive, he has to pick wisely. So far he has with short contracts, score one intelligent move for the German.
The answer is in the ages of the drivers, the length of their contracts and the ability of a team to deliver a car that is dominant. The RB7 most certainly is dominant in Vettel’s hands, but not Webber. One need not be reminded that Alonso had a year from hell in his brief tenure with McLaren. Accusations of McLaren taking all of his setups and handing them over to Hamilton’s engineers as well as favoring Hamilton on pit strategy seem plausible considering Alonso was openly vocal about it. Remember Alonso sitting in the pit box holding up Hamilton, there’s a reason for it.
Jenson Button doesn’t mind the atmosphere as he has taken control of the McLaren team and been rewarded with a long-term contract. Make that a lifetime contract for potentially 70 million USD. The British Champion is 31 years old and the shelf life of the present day F1 driver has grown shorter.
So with Button sewn up that leaves Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes as possibilities for Vettel should Red Bull not keep its technical advantage. Alonso is signed with Ferrari until 2016 with a contract that would make most people weep. That leaves a gap with Ferrari for two years and also with McLaren if Hamilton tries to jump ship to Ferrari or Red Bull. Hamilton’s contract with McLaren is up in 2012 as of this writing.
If all this sounds confusing it really isn’t. Sebastian Vettel won a World Championship the year after he joined Red Bull. Fernando Alonso won a World Championship a year after he joined Renault. Jenson Button won a World Championship the year Ross Brawn was basically paid to take the Honda team. The common pattern is that in each case these three drivers had the best car on the grid. Vettel’s ability is undeniable but if his team, whomever it may be, stumbles and doesn’t provide the best car, it’s game on for Alonso, Hamilton or Jenson Button.
The point is that it is possible for Vettel to take 7 titles, but with the company he now keeps, it’s very improbable. Did I mention Nico Rosberg?