The Way I See It: Sebastian Vettel needs real challenge before we will see him as a true champion

 

The numbers leave no room for argument. None has done what Sebastian Vettel has done, consecutive world championships from the first to the fourth. Michael Schumacher and Juan Fangio rattled off four on the spin but both had already tucked a championship away before posting their quadruples. Whichever way you drill into the details, be it race wins (36), pole positions (43), fastest laps (21), etc, the statistics are overwhelmingly in favour of the notion that this boy is an all-time great. And he is still only 26. So where is the fanfare?

Vettel was lucky that providence led him to his fourth title in India, a nation that has nil racing tradition, that does not understand what is happening on the circuit but comprehends the simple ideas of winning or losing. Thus does uncritical love pour down from the stands on the only racer to have won an F1 race in their country. It sure beats being booed to the chequered flag.

Cartoon unpopularity, as much as it might disappoint in the immediacy of victory, is easily brushed aside by Vettel. He has the respect of every driver in the pit lane and every operative from the lollipop men to those whose grand designs he drives. Vettel is not let down by unappreciative fans, but by a sport that has driven into a cul-de-sac of aching predictability.

Sport is predicated on unscripted competition. Watching Vettel rattle off a sixth consecutive victory is akin to observing Real Madrid wallop Yeovil every week. You couldn’t sell a ticket for that.

It is a wonder that Vettel took the season to the cusp of November. In his days of absolute mastery Schumacher would have the thing won by July. In those days, the absence of spectacle triggered a fortnightly wringing of hands and a series of regulatory changes to somehow slow the killer coalition of Ferrari engineers and the epoch’s greatest driver. They mucked about with qualifying, with tyres, with aero specifications, with power units, anything to rip up the established template and give the others a chance.

At the height of Schumacher’s grim superiority a decade ago, Formula One’s commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, bowled into Brazil suggesting a handicap system in qualifying, effectively inverting the grid so that the fastest car started at the back. When it was pointed out to him that the very integrity of the sport was in danger of being eroded by the rapid implementation of madcap ideas, he replied: “Beats going out of business.”

None will be more discomfited by the ease with which Vettel won his fourth championship. As much as Ecclestone loves the kid, he loves making money more. And yesterday’s procession did nothing to either sell the product or convey how good Vettel is. Every great champion needs a great adversary. There were four world champions on the track in India piddling about in midfield. Vettel is merely beating the clock when he needs to be wheel-to-wheel with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen.

Muhammad Ali was a great boxer not because he won myriad bouts but because of those he had to beat to raise his fists in triumph. Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman, those were the men that created the Ali legend. He would not have been voted the 20th Century’s greatest sportsmen knocking over Richard Dunn every week. Make no mistake, Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Button can fight, but are being denied a shot at the champion by engineers who have failed to match the number crunchers in Milton Keynes. This brings us back to an age old problem for the sport, namely, the balance between man and machine.

As clever as the science is, it is difficult to sell physics to a sporting audience no matter how beautiful the solution the discipline provides. You can have all the PhDs in the world, but until we can place a camera inside the brain and track the route of an idea along the synapses, we will never make a race out of academic agility.

Formula One’s finest minds have been busy making sense of the new engine specifications for next year, which on paper at least provides Red Bull’s rivals with a chance to land an engineering blow on the men from Milton Keynes. The hope must be that all that thinking feeds into a more visceral battle on the field of play.

Vettel deserves the chance to set his talents against the best that the opposition can throw at him. He has demonstrated how brilliant he is at maximising the potential of a car. But unless that ability is challenged, prodded and poked by a rival in machinery equally as potent as his, then he is condemned to take the same unloved walk into history as that other totemic Teuton, Schumacher.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam