2013: THE YEAR THAT BELONGED TO SEB
From the likes of Alberto Ascari to Michael Schumacher and now the reigning world champion, Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1 has witnessed an elite class of very impressive and dominant drivers across its rich history. One such driver is Sebastian Vettel, who in the last year of the V8 era turned up the heat and ran riot on the asphalts across the world, claiming his 4th consecutive F1 world championship title in what is remembered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest individual season behind the wheel.
That imperious drive in Delhi
Seb as he is affectionately known was the undisputed world No.1 but, could the other big stars in F1 really out-perform the defending champion in 2013? This was the question on everyone’s lips all across the world. Cut to the 27th of October 2013, the Formula 1 bonanza landed in India, in what was the 16th race on the calendar. Amongst the fanfare was Sebastian Vettel, the young 26-year-old German, who was riding high on a wave of 5 consecutive Grand Prix triumphs. After sealing the pole position on the grid with an advantage of seven-tenths of a second on Nico Rosberg, the infallible German almost inevitably, won his fourth straight Formula One world championship in Delhi’s Buddh International circuit and as if to banish his few remaining naysayers he did so with one of the most devastating drives of his career. Vettel, previously had found his throttle in India, leading every lap in the last 2 years, but the story wasn’t the same in 2013, the outcome though, exactly as the German would’ve imagined the night before he crossed the chequered flag in the Indian capital. After boxing early, Vettel was 17th in the race, but as commanding as ever, the to-be champ carved his way through the traffic with some imperious driving.
The world watched in awe as the Red Bull driver rose to the podium as a winner, for the tenth time that season. This was the season when even the most curmudgeonly of Vettel-doubters conceded his all-time greatness, when he became only the third driver after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher to win a fourth consecutive championship.
The pack chases the leader
The first racing event in Australia saw the season promising a cutthroat rivalry, as Vettel failed to conquer the Albert Park circuit from number one the grid. Five winners from four different teams in the first half of the season suggested that it could be a close battle for both the World Championship and the Constructors Title, and mighty close it would have been if it weren’t for the consistency of the master from Heppenheim that saw him pull out a series of impeccable drives ensuring that the championship was in his bag.
Missing out on an opening weekend victory, the crown wasn’t going to elude the driver in the Red Bull circa 5. Vettel, only second to his then Aussie teammate Mark Webber, defied team orders and refused to hold station behind Webber until the end of the race. “Multi-21 Seb,” became the highlight of the Grand Prix as the fans jeered the golden boy of racing who was now the archetypal villain.
The next few races, however, gave mixed signals as to how the season might unfold, with Ferrari’s Alonso grabbing a couple of victories in China and Barcelona. This seemed to suggest that Ferrari were in contention for the title, Mercedes too, led by Nico Rosberg and Hamilton looked the part. The engineers back in Germany had toiled to make the car the most improved racing beast since the trials and tribulations of previous seasons.
As was often the norm though, Ferrari, not doing themselves any favors committed tactical errors. This aided Vettel in being able to take the win in Bahrain where a glitch with Alonso’s DRS system saw him make two unplanned visits to the pits. On a track where Ferrari’s pace had been competitive, it cost him a chance of challenging for victory. Vettel then went on and stretched his lead in the championship standings with a straightforward victory in Montreal in a race relatively devoid of incident, with the most talked about incident occurring off the tracks. The German was not a popular winner with the Canadian crowd with many fans choosing to boo the race winner on the podium during his victory speech. Vettel as he has often done remained unfazed, while the jeering fans remained oblivious to the masterclass that he was going to pull off come Belgium.
Owning the European Battleground
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite amongst the fans and drivers alike is famed for throwing up classics, mainly due to the high likelihood of rain being around the corner at any point during the race. The man in question here started second on the grid just behind the pole sitter Lewis Hamilton. Vettel went on to deny another pole conversion for the Brit as the Mercedes’ struggles with Pirelli tyres continued. The rain never showed up, and so, Seb bagged a comfortable 16.8-second win over chief rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.
As if he were on a one man mission, the German drove like a man possessed in the races that followed, in Italy, the race was a walk in the park for him with the only hiccup being a flat spot into the first corner, which he immediately overcame holding off the challenge of Felipe Masa. Vettel, who looked like a robot engineered to perfection to run the F1 machine, broke the Tifosi hearts and then set his sights upon the street circuit of Marina Bay. In the only full night race of the season, Vettel turned lights out on opposition who practically lead from start to finish in what was becoming a regular sight for the F1 faithful. Up next was Korea, and Vettel unsurprisingly converted from the pole position to grab a fourth successive win in a race that was one of the most dramatic and chaotic of the season.
The Japanese GP of 2013 went down as a classic as it came down to a fantastic and fascinating strategic battle with both Vettel and Grosjean on a two-stopper and Webber opting for three. Another victory was secured, and it edged Vettel closer to the championship also pushing Red Bull further ahead in the constructor’s table, with just one podium finish required to ensure that the championship had been wrapped up with three races to go.
As the rampant Red Bull flew past the chequered flag in India, Vettel joined his idol Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Alain Prost as the only men in the sport to have won four championships. This feat of individual brilliance had gained him a place alongside Schumacher and Fangio, as the only drivers as quadruple winners, in a row. Even after completing the double, post clenching the Championship and constructor’s title, Seb did not take his foot off the gas and finished the season with 9 straight wins with victories pocketing the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, Texas and the celebrated Autódromo José Carlos Pace in Brazil.
To sum up this astounding run in numbers can inspire shock and awe in equal measure: Vettel recorded 397 points, held the pole 9 times, converting them all but one and till the Australia Grand prix in 2014, was undefeated for 231 days.
Team orders, Tyres and a Vehement Sebastian Vettel. These are three things that the 2013 Formula 1 season will always be remembered for.
Life beyond the Prancing Horse
On 12th May 2020, the news that Sebastien Vettel was going to end his 5-year stint as a part of the Ferrari Stable created shockwaves in the world of motorsport. At a time when almost all teams are looking towards younger talent and pushing increasingly to reduce the average age on the grid it remains to be seen as to what this German legend decides to do with his career. The impending change in regulations that are going to take effect from 2022 would be a factor in his thought process and also the fact that at 33 this might well be his last contract in Formula One. There are millions around the world who have followed Vettel and would be taken aback by this news but as the cliché goes ‘in every cloud there is a silver lining’, one can only hope that he makes the right call. Be it McLaren, Renault, or any other challenger it would not be out of place to suggest that F1 Circuit would be much richer with Seb driving a furious beast the only way he can.