This year Sebastian Vettel became only the ninth man to win back-to-back World Championships, joining an illustrious list which includes the likes of Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Ayrton Senna.
Throughout the season Vettel dominated, winning eleven races in the process and winning the championship by a record 122 points. His dominance was clear from the start, taking pole position in the first four races and going on to win three of those. Never at any stage did there look to be any doubt that he was going to retain the Formula One Drivers’ Championship.
Surely then, the dominance of the 23 year-old from Heppenheim, West Germany this season has proven he is undoubtedly the man to beat? Well, there is no doubting Vettel’s talent, and only those who were being extremely critical would question his overtaking abilities and mentality when struggling in a race or throughout a season. Vettel qualified on pole position fifteen times this season, breaking the previous record of former champion Nigel Mansell. As well as this, he has also broken the record for the most laps led in a single season; a staggering 739.
But a lot of this dominance from the front of the grid can be attributed to the car the exuberant German is driving. The Red Bull Racing team this year has developed a faster car than ever before and has dominated the season from start to finish, with only McLaren Mercedes really able to compete with the RB7. This has been masterminded by chief technical officer Adrian Newey, who has developed an innovative and aero-dynamically advanced package which has proven to be a huge success.
The FIA were so concerned with Red Bull’s and Vettel’s dominance half way through the season, that they introduced changes to the regulations regarding engine mapping and the infamous blown diffuser which the Red Bull team have used so effectively. This proved to be ineffectual as Vettel and Red Bull were faster than ever in the second half of the 19 race season, winning seven of the twelve races after the regulation changes.
Perhaps the only time throughout the whole of this season that Vettel showed himself to be human was during the final lap of the Canadian Grand Prix, when Jenson Button frightened the youngest world champion in history off the road. Apart from that one moment, it is hard to remember any glaring errors that Vettel made. Indeed, former Formula One driver Martin Brundle said that the most impressive aspect of Vettel’s championship win this season is that it “has been a year of absolute controlled dominance”, while Red Bull team principal Christian Horner stated that “he has completely proved all his detractors wrong.”
With Vettel winning eleven races and breaking all sorts of records this year, the pressure is on his competitors to respond in the 2012 season. The likes of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will be hoping to have a competitive car from the start of the season while Ferrari and Fernando Alonso will expect a significant improvement on their 2011 season.
The man with the most to prove though is Vettel’s teammate, Australian Mark Webber. Vettel completely overshadowed his Red Bull colleague this year just twelve months after being in a five way battle for the championship, with Webber the favourite to beat Vettel. With the relaxed nature of the champion’s character, Michael Schumacher may be the most worried man in the Formula One field as there is no doubt that the next few years could see the young German break many of his idol’s records.
Whatever happens, Formula One will be grateful to have such a wonderful ambassador for the sport, and will hope he has the longevity to rival or surpass the legacy of seven-time champion Schumacher.