Sebastian Vettel tried to laugh it off.
"They're on a tour, they go around on a bus," he joked on the podium of fans who greeted his victory in Singapore on Sunday with boos rather than cheers, according to Chris Lines of the Associated Press (via F1 Pulse).
Formula 1 has a world champion—a record-breaking, thoroughly deserving, triple- and soon-to-be-quadruple world champion—who is routinely booed every time he triumphs.
I'm not sure which is more laughably embarrassing, fans booing Vettel at the end of a GP or Webber's 10 place penalty for hitching a lift...— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) September 22, 2013
It's an embarrassing situation for the sport to find itself in, and one that Red Bull team principal Christian Horner saw fit to speak out against in the wake of another unseemly chorus. As the BBC reported him saying:
It's so unfair. It's not sporting. The boy has driven an unbelievable race.
Of course he says it doesn't affect him, but he's a human being.
What are fans upset about? If it's just that he keeps winning, then they need to take a long, hard look at themselves. What would they have him do? Slow down?
Many will point to the "Multi-21" incident—the moment at the Malaysian Grand Prix this year when Vettel flouted team orders and overtook Mark Webber to grab a race victory.
Webber, a popular driver, felt robbed.
Red Bull, a team seen to favour Vettel, looked surprised by the move.
Half a year later, it's still hard to see why fans were so upset with the German. Team orders, traditionally, have been seen as dark, borderline immoral tactics that prevent true racing and throw up artificial results.
It was unlawful and was theft. They stole from us the chance of having a wheel-to-wheel contest between the drivers.
Ferrari should be ashamed. This was a team order. For me, it is cheating and these two cars should be excluded.
Now, when team orders are disregarded for the sake of racing and getting to the finish first, Vettel must bear the mantle of public enemy. It says more about the perception of the world champion than it does the man himself.
As Scott Mitchell has written for this website, Vettel is a more rounded individual than some would care to admit. Michael Schumacher, by comparison, often looked one-dimensional away from the sport. Vettel is more than that.
Still, it takes ruthless, clinical focus to become the best F1 driver in the world. And when somebody reaches that level, people are angry about it? It's like being upset with a climber because his arms are too big.
Vettel himself was scaling new peaks of dominance in Singapore. In Formula 1 terms, he was light years ahead of his rivals. Time and again on race day, he took chunks of time out of those nearest to him, as if their cars were stuck in treacle.
In an era of the sport where dominant drivers don't tend to pull out significant gaps because they are also thinking about car and tyre management, Vettel was more than half a minute clear of the field.
This despite the advent of a safety car to bunch everyone back together midway through the race. This despite only popping out a couple of seconds ahead of Alonso when he made his final stop 16 laps from the chequered flag.
There is a yob element creeping into F1. Vettel is brilliant. @redbullracing are brilliant. Deal with it. Congratulate it.— Grand Prix Diary (@GrandPrixDiary) September 22, 2013
It can't just be the car, as some critics would have you believe. If it were, Webber would be a multiple world championship runner-up. Instead, his record in the title race since 2009 reads fourth, third, third, sixth and this year he is currently fifth.
You can beat the Red Bull—just not usually the champion driving it.
And there are no shortages of champions in F1 right now who are being put in their place by Vettel. Fernando Alonso has come close, but remains on two titles. Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are world champions, and lead drivers in strong teams. And still they fall short.
It's human nature, to a degree, to hope for variety, intrigue and new storylines. However, as Horner added, it's manifesting itself in an ugly and unproductive way:
When you have a guy who almost becomes a serial winner, it's like people when they watched Muhammad Ali, people want to see who's going to beat him and it's a little bit like that now.
So when he keeps wining maybe it isn't the most popular result but it's not sporting and not fair not to recognise when a sportsman has delivered in the way he has.
He's a great kid. He has a great sense of humour, a big heart. And of course he's ambitious. He's a competitor and he will push. He enjoys winning and it's a shame. And I hope it will change in the forthcoming races.
There will be a time when Sebastian Vettel is not in Formula 1. He might have a dozen titles by then, but that time will come.
And people will start to reflect on the scale of his achievements, and measure would-be greats by them.
It might be an idea to start savouring those achievements in real-time, rather than going on tour in the boo bus.
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