Vettel is well on the way to a fourth drivers' title
Formula One commentator Murray Walker once famously said: "Anything happens in Grand Prix racing and it usually does!"
Anything surely apart from a fourth successive world drivers' title for the peerless Sebastian Vettel. Yes folks, with the season only halfway through, this one is as good as done and dusted. Following his third-place finish in Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, the Red Bull ace has stretched his lead over second-placed Kimi Raikkonen to 38 points.
You may think that's not an insurmountable tally, with 25 points on offer for a race victory, but I still see Vettel as almost impossible to beat on the basis of the opening half of the season.
Chatting to my old pal Eddie Irvine before the start of the 2013 season, I was assured that Vettel is almost the complete package.
We already knew he had the out-and-out raw pace in qualifying and supreme race craft when leading from the front. But he has also enjoyed the best machinery, the best pit crew and arguably has the majority of the team behind him—just ask Mark Webber!
The one thing we didn't know for sure is what he's like under intense pressure, when he doesn't have the best car and he really has to grit his teeth and fight. I think we already know the answers.
Unlike in 2011 when he was utterly dominant and in 2012 when Fernando Alonso was still in with a small shout in the final race, Vettel hasn't had it his way so far in 2013 thanks to a combination of Pirelli's quicker-wearing and sometimes unpredictable rubber and other teams getting closer to Red Bull's pace.
Vettel has been tested, and he's still on top. Here's why.
1. The hunger still burns fiercely
Pole position in Australia led to a solid third, but then came Malaysia and the infamous abandonment of team orders that opened up old wounds in his rivalry with teammate Mark Webber. Despite Webber's fury and team boss Christian Horner's stern ticking off, Vettel still claimed the race win and the lead of the championship.
Many saw Vettel's temperamental show as a sign of weakness. I see it as a strength in the same way the great Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher were never willing to accept second place under any circumstances. It proved that despite already holding three drivers' titles, Vettel is as competitive as ever, and the hunger burns for him to add to this tally and break yet more records.
2. Consistency is king
Red Bull's lack of straight-line pace in China saw Vettel ninth on the grid, but he carved his way through to briefly lead the race before his pit strategy put him out of sync and he finished fourth.
Vettel then had one of his perfect days in Bahrain, passing pole-sitter Nico Rosberg on Lap 4 before dominating the race on the hard compound tyre. Again no pole in Spain where Alonso rode a wave of home support to win but another fourth-place finish and more points into the championship pot preceded a fine second place in Monaco from third on the grid.
Vettel has improved immeasurably in terms of consistency and race craft and has learned from his impetuous mistakes of the past that saw him crash out in search of victories. Some points are better than no points.
A practically flawless pole to flag victory in Canada followed, where he led for all of a handful of laps and surely would have made it two wins from two at Silverstone had he not suffered a gearbox failure when cruising to victory late in the race.
3. He can handle the pressure
Vettel bounced back from his Silverstone disappointment to clinch his first ever Grand Prix victory on home soil in Germany but this was by no means the walk in the park of Bahrain and Canada. It was a hard-won, blood-sweat-and-gears drive pushed every inch of the way by the Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The winning margin was just over a second.
Very impressed with Seb Vettel. Pre podium we were both in the gents. He calmly washed his hands to before collecting his third place pot.— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) July 28, 2013
It was exactly the pressure Eddie Irvine was referring to, and he passed the test with flying colours. And so to Hungary and another hard-fought third-place finish after another tough scrap with Raikkonen. It hasn't been easy for Vettel, but mark my words, he will win a fourth drivers' title this season or I'll eat my Red Bull Racing cap...
Do you think Sebastian Vettel will win a fourth successive drivers' title?
Seb's midseason marks
Race craft: 9/10
Summary: Top of the class. Three gold stars.