There has been a changing of the guard at the top of the Formula 1 tree. The old king has been usurped and we are beginning to see the rise of a potential new king from the free-for-all that has been the way of F1 for the past six years.
The kings, in this case, are Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher. Both German’s, the former was only 4 when the latter—a childhood hero, along with Michael Jordan and, disturbingly, Michael Jackson—drove his first Grand Prix.
Schumacher dominated F1 between 2000 and 2004 and amassed five consecutive world championships to bring his total to seven. He established himself as one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen—some would go as far as to argue that he is the best.
Since his last championship and eventual departure from F1 at the end of the 2006 season, there has been no heir apparent. The championships have been scattered between five drivers and five teams, but all maybe about to change.
Vettel won—some would say stole—the 2010 championship with a last race victory in Abu Dhabi, but it was a result that belied just how superior the combination of he and the outstanding Red Bull RB6 really was.
A number of very silly mistakes almost cost him what should have been a comfortable championship victory. The unnecessary collision with Mark Webber in Turkey last year—despite what Christian Horner and Helmut Marko thought of the incident—followed by the safety car penalty in Hungary cost him plenty of points.
The ridiculous collision with Jenson Button in Belgium and some very bad starts, in which he was too focused on countering other drivers instead of getting to the corner first, made his job even harder.
This year, however, everything has changed.
Vettel is focused, the car is all but untouchable in both qualifying and race trim and—even though it’s very early in the season—all of the signs are pointing to another successful season for Red Bull and perhaps the beginnings of a dynasty.
He has dominated every race weekend and was beaten only by a superior tyre strategy in China. It is difficult to see how he can be beaten, save for another strategy blunder or mechanical failure.
The old bull’s return to racing, by way of contrast, is a horror story. The romantic notion of Germany’s best ever driver in the country’s premier motoring marque is irresistible from a marketing perspective. At least it would have seemed so before the ugly reality was revealed.
Far from taking what was a championship winning car (sort of) to glory and picking up his career where he left off, his return has been a bitter disappointment.
He has been unable to drive the sort of improvement that he saw during his time at Ferrari and languishes in a car that is in a fight to be fourth best on the grid.
We saw some glimpses n the old Schumacher on occasion last year, albeit the ugly side of the old Schumacher, the one who ran drivers off the road. He came perilously close to smearing his old teammate, Rubens Barrichello, along the wall in Hungary.
Once, drivers feared challenging Schumacher for a corner. He had a hard earned reputation for running other drivers off the road or simply ramming them—often without damaging his car. Now cars pass him with impunity, often banging wheels and squeezing him off the road.
In short, he is slow and timid. A spent force in Formula 1.
Worse still, he is damaging his legacy and reputation. His demise is embarrassing, almost difficult to watch—unless, of course, you s were a supporter of any other team that Ferrari during those glory days.
Despite his insistence that he will see out his full three-year contract, if his current form persists and he continues languishing far behind his younger teammate, Nico Rosberg (Schumacher finished higher then Rosberg in only five of 19 races—three of which were as a result of retirements), Schumacher may find himself facing the ignominious prospect of being fired.
That would be a terrible way to end his career but, just maybe, as a saving grace he’ll be able to tell his kids that he raced with a new legend in the form of a young German who he once inspired. Time will tell.