Any lingering doubts about whether Sebastian Vettel had earned a position amongst the greats must now be a bit closer to being completely dispelled.
A few weeks ago, former Bleacher Report writer Daniel Chalmers of The F1 Times wrote a terrific analysis of Vettel and why he hasn't quite reached the ranks of the greats. In doing so, he lists a number of criteria that define great drivers.
Some of those criteria Vettel may never have the opportunity to tick off. He may never leave Red Bull, he may never have an inferior car and he may never have a formidable teammate, but he has now ticked off delivering a truly memorable race—not quite a victory—delivered under tremendous pressure.
The two-time world champion’s drive in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will go down as one of the all-time great drives. Vettel started from dead last after his horror of a qualifying session (or was supposed to, save for Pedro De La Rosa’s broken HRT) from pit lane, but recovered to secure an unlikely podium spot.
To get there, Vettel had a lot of luck during the race—both the good and the bad kind.
He benefited from some timely safety cars and a number of other cars self-destructing in front of him, but also had a bit of bad luck by losing parts of his front wing passing slower cars and doing further damage when he was run off the road by Daniel Riccardo in his Toro Rosso.
Despite the extra pit stop to replace the front wing, he still managed to finish within five seconds of surprise winner Kimi Raikkonen and, in doing so, firmed up his grip on the 2012 championship.
So, has Vettel earned his place amongst the greats?
Vettel’s performance eliminated three of the four remaining contenders, with Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber failing to finish and Raikkonen not securing a big enough gap to the Vettel and Fernando Alonso to keep him in the hunt.
The result was also a bitter blow to Alonso, and it showed. Post-race vision of Alonso showed him to be drained by the effort of carrying his underperforming Ferrari around this demanding circuit, only to have his only remaining championship rival appear directly behind him when the race finished.
Although he managed to shave three points off Vettel’s lead, it was an opportunity that went begging. While he remains philosophical, he must realise that his chances of taking out the championship have taken a body blow.
With the next grand prix being a new Hermann Tilke track in Texas, Red Bull will be expected to have an advantage given their form on similar tracks (all Tilke tracks are similar). The following race in Brazil has been owned by Red Bull for the previous three races and they will be confident there too.
Alonso needs to win the next two races to guarantee a championship win. There are, of course, other combinations that will get there but, on current form, anything less than a win is unlikely to do it. Perhaps this explains his sombre post-race demeanour.
Vettel, on the other hand, was ebullient after the race and the normally polished and professional media performer proved to be a handful for David Coulthard in the post-race interview.
He swore—twice—during the interview and, according to ESPNF1, stated:
[Starting from the pit lane] was obviously a chance to f*** it up and we didn't do that. So we can be very proud today, we got the maximum and we lost only a very little bit. We've still got the momentum and the car is bloody quick so I'm looking forward to the next two races. We are definitely believing in it and that's the target.
He followed that up by pouring whatever the champagne analogue that they were using over Coulthard's head as he interviewed Raikkonen.
That’s quite a reaction for a third place finish from a two-time world champion and five-time winner this season. It speaks volumes for the pressure that he and Red Bull were under.
Pressure, it must be said, that Vettel weathered with aplomb—you might even say like one of the greats.