Overcoming Misery And Misfortune-Sebastian Vettel
392 days, to be precise, had gone by when Sebastian Vettel last won a race at a Grand Prix. The wait was finally over for the man from Heppenheim as he claimed victory at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix, the 53rd career triumph for the youngest Formula 1 champion. Charles Leclerc, his Ferrari teammate, clearly wasn’t happy with the way things panned out on the night as he openly criticized the team’s strategy. However, in the end he didn’t mind having two Ferrari drivers at the podium.
A lot has gone by in the career of the German driver since he last stood at the top of the podium at Spa in 2018. We look at some of the key highlights of his career since that victory at Spa.
The race which turned the title
The image of Lewis Hamilton on his knees with his car, due to a loss of hydraulic pressure, at Q1 in Hockenheim last year is still quite fresh in the memories of Mercedes fans. Vettel took pole position that same day and was looking set for at least a podium finish at a place where he had never won a race before. The German was eyeing to extend the championship lead further and had a good lead in the race while being the race leader for most of the part.
However, on lap 52 with the track starting to become slippery from the rain, Vettel crashed into the barriers allowing Hamilton, who started P14 to emerge triumphant. This was the defining moment of last season’s title race as a win would have extended Vettel’s 8-point lead, but it rather led to Hamilton going 17 points clear. The defending champion never looked back and continued to build on that lead, eventually getting crowned as the world champion for the fifth time. Many Ferrari fans still think as to what might have been, had Vettel not crashed at that slippery turn.
Cracking under pressure – Monza 2018
It all started well for Ferrari in qualifying at Monza. Both Kimi Räikkönen and Vettel finished P1 and P2 respectively, with Hamilton in P3. Ferrari would have been hoping that luck would favour Vettel this time with the German having won thrice before at the Italian Grand Prix, the last of which was way back in 2013 with his former team Red Bull. Ferrari themselves were winless at their home race since 2010 when a certain Fernando Alonso led the Scuderia to victory.
Come race day, Ferrari looked like favourites to snap this streak in front of the tifosi. However, on the very first lap of the race Vettel was out of contention for a podium finish when he tried to defend against Hamilton in the second chicane. With Hamilton on the outside, Vettel decided to try and stay alongside him which ultimately led to a coming together. This resulted in Vettel’s car spinning down to the back end of field. Surprisingly, Hamilton was unharmed and went on to chase the race leader Räikkönen. With eight laps to go, Hamilton snatched the lead from Kimi and went on to win the race.
After the race, Sebastian complained that Hamilton didn’t leave him any room. Lewis quickly countered, explaining that there was at least a car’s width to his left.
Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s former team mate and a world champion himself, weighed in with his thoughts stating that it was his compatriot who was at fault and slated him for repeating such mistakes. Damon Hill also came to the same conclusion, simply saying that Vettel had cracked under the pressure.
The Clash with Max – Japan 2018
With the championship slipping away from Vettel with every passing race, he was desperate to get a victory at Suzuka to keep his slim hopes alive. Hamilton was the fastest in all three practice sessions and eventually grabbed pole position in qualifying. On the other hand, Vettel had a disastrous Q3 and started P8 behind the likes of Brendan Hartley and Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean of Haas.
At lights out, Vettel made a great start and moved up to fourth, eyeing the possibility of a podium finish. Later in the race Vettel came up against Max Verstappen, who is not known to give up his place easily, and tried to go down on the inside of the Dutchman . Push came to shove, and the contact left Vettel spinning off the track and ending up in 19th position. Vettel somehow recovered from this incident and finished sixth, but his championship hopes were all but over. Following the race, Vettel blamed Verstappen for the crash, as did his teammate Räikkönen, who himself tangled with the 21-year-old on the opening lap of the race.
Coming full circle – Hockenheim 2019
Who knew that the place where all the misery had begun for ‘Seb’, would eventually be the place where he will find some sort of redemption. Vettel was hoping to get rid of those bad memories from 2018 and get some points for both him and his team in this race in front of his home fans. However, things started in disastrous fashion for the German. A mechanical failure in Vettel’s car at the start of Q1 lead to him starting at the back of the grid, with a fuel pump failure for Leclerc in Q2 leaving Ferrari red-faced. Hamilton pounced on this opportunity and took pole position with Verstappen and Bottas at P2 and P3 respectively.
On race day, with Charles Leclerc starting at P10 and Sebastian Vettel starting dead last, there weren’t any major expectations from the two Ferrari drivers. However, the wet conditions of the track and inconsistent rain provided a twist in the tale. After multiple safety cars and pit stops, both Bottas and Leclerc crashed into the barriers leading to their retirement from the race. Hamilton was hit with a five second penalty for driving on the wrong side of pit entry which led to him falling further behind the pack. Amidst all the chaos, Verstappen took the lead and Vettel charged through the field. With only five laps to go, Vettel was behind Daniil Kvyat in second and Lance Stroll in third. Within the space of two laps the German blitzed passed Stroll on the straight before the hairpin and then made overtaking look easy in the following lap, albeit with DRS assistance, to go past Kvyat. Vettel finished second, behind Verstappen, sending the home fans into raptures with a fine display of modern-day racing.
If ever Sebastian Vettel needed a moment of redemption, Hockenheim was that moment.