Ranking Sebastian Vettel's Best Seasons in Formula 1
Sebastian Vettel’s latest victory in India means that he has now won the last six races on the bounce and 10 in total in what could be his most dominant season to date.
He needs only to win one of the remaining three rounds this season to match his win tally of 2011, and it is still possible that he could also surpass his record points tally of the same year—he is currently 70 points off that mark.
But statistics aside, what have been Vettel’s most impressive seasons to date?
Taking into consideration the machinery at his disposal, the relative pace of the opposition and Vettel’s own race craft, here are his top seasons in F1 in order of merit.
The 2009 season saw Vettel in the cockpit of a front-running car for the first time, but he was forced to play second fiddle to the dominance of Jenson Button’s controversial Brawn.
Despite the regulations stating the height of the diffuser must be limited to 177mm above the floor of the car with no bodywork above it, Brawn incorporated their diffuser design into the crash structure to allow air to flow through it and thus create greater downforce and grip.
Button took full advantage, winning six out of the first seven races, with only Vettel denying him in China. By midseason, the other teams and notably Red Bull had caught up to Brawn in the tech stakes, and Vettel won in Britain before chipping away at Button’s lead.
But it was too little too late, and Button wrapped up the title in Brazil before Vettel ended the season on a high with victory in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for Red Bull’s fourth 1-2 of the season. But for his sluggish start and unfortunate retirements in Monaco, Hungary and Valencia, it could have been a very different story.
Having replaced Scott Speed at Toro Rosso halfway through the 2007 season, the young Vettel marked himself out as a star of the future but also a driver with much to learn at the rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel worked his way up to third, behind leader Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull 's Mark Webber, and looked set for not only his but also Toro Rosso's maiden podium finish. But inexperience then got the better of him, and he crashed into Webber under safety car conditions, taking them both out of the race.
It prompted future team-mate Webber to say to ITV reporter Louise Goodman "It's kids isn't it... kids with not enough experience – you do a good job and then they f**k it all up."
He bounced back with a superb fourth in China a week later from 17th on the grid, but it was during the 2008 Italian Grand Prix that Vettel made everyone sit up and take notice. The German became the youngest driver to take pole position and the youngest to win a race in challenging conditions at Monza.
You may find it strange that the first of Vettel’s title-winning years comes in at third in the list, but if you look back at the season as a whole, it’s one he should have won comfortably and yet one that he so nearly blew and perhaps should have lost.
Red Bull had taken over as the top team following the purchase of Brawn GP by Mercedes following their strong finish to 2009, but there seemed little to choose between the top drivers.
Fernando Alonso won the season opener and Jenson Button the next race before Vettel notched his first win in Malaysia, but back-to-back victories for Mark Webber in Spain and Monaco put him level with Vettel going into the Turkish Grand Prix. Webber led in Turkey until lap 40, when Vettel attempted an opportunistic pass resulting in a collision that put him out of the race while Webber went on to finish third.
Turkey marked the start of a frosty relationship between the drivers that spilled over again in Britain, Webber furious that Vettel was given his new front wing for qualifying after Vettel damaged his own in practice. Webber won the race before remarking "not bad for a No. 2 driver," as reported by Metro.
Vettel found himself third in the standings going into the final race of the season behind Alonso and Webber, but a fine drive saw the German take the race victory from Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button as his rivals faded to finish seventh and eighth.
It was the first time he had taken the lead of the championship standings in the season and showed more than anything else that Vettel could handle the pressure and rise to the challenge when it mattered most.
As with 2010, the 2012 Formula One season is one that Vettel could easily have lost out to rival Fernando Alonso.
The first seven races saw seven different winners and the title race was still a five-way fight between Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel and Webber with a handful of races left.
Vettel trailed Alonso by 39 points and was also just behind Hamilton and Raikkonen going into the Singapore Grand Prix, but he then reeled off four straight wins to take the championship by the scruff of the neck and finished the job in Brazil despite recovering from a dramatic opening-lap spin to finish sixth to Alonso’s second.
Again, it was not an incident-free season for Vettel as his racing instincts cost him a drive-through penalty in Italy when he drove Alonso off the circuit at the Curva Grande.
1. 2011 and 2013
Although Vettel came close to losing out on the title both in 2010 and 2012, his 2011 and 2013 seasons will go down in history as two of the most dominant of all time.
Vettel won 11 of the 19 races in 2011 with a further five second places a third and a fourth helping him to a record tally of 392 championship points.
He also equalled Nigel Mansell's record of 14 pole positions in a season when he was fastest in qualifying at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
He may well have won there too had he not spun out at Turn 2 with a right rear puncture after leading through the first corner.
Despite a controversial start to the season that saw him disobey team orders to overtake race leader Mark Webber in Malaysia, Vettel could yet eclipse his brilliance of 2011, as he currently has 322 points with three rounds still remaining and needs only one more win to match his 2011 tally.