Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull will go their separate ways following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next month, severing an association dating well beyond his six-year, hugely successful tenure at the eponymous outfit.
The German has been on the energy drinks giant’s books since 1998, and though he ultimately made his Formula One debut for BMW Sauber in 2007, he has remained part of the Red Bull family to this day.
He handed Toro Rosso their first and only victory at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix – before the senior outfit had tasted success. Vettel would deliver this moment, having been promoted to Red Bull during the off-season, at the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix, the first of many triumphs as both parties embarked on complete domination.
Vettel became Formula One’s youngest champion at 23 years and 4 months when he pinched the 2010 crown in spectacular fashion at Abu Dhabi under the noses of Fernando Alonso and then team-mate, Mark Webber. Nobody was aware at the time, but the Red Bull-Vettel combination had just commenced their rule of the sport for many years to come.
His 2011 campaign was peerless, his mastery of the dubious electronic blown diffuser elevated him to another level. A third title in 2012 was arguably his greatest triumph, having endured a trying first part of the season, he delivered four consecutive victories in the final races to secure another crown.
Barring misfortune ruling Vettel out of the remaining events, the 27-year old will depart Red Bull with an imposing record comprising 113 Grands Prix, and even if he fails to add to the 38 victories achieved as of the Singapore Grand Prix, a strike rate of one finger salute every three races, accompanied by forty-four pole positions, is impressive reading.
For all that has been achieved, Vettel is on track to be soundly accounted for by Daniel Ricciardo in his final campaign with the Milton Keynes squad, a sour note to conclude the partnership. It opens the door to the notion that the German is prepared to accept mediocrity, ostensibly in the form of Ferrari, alongside an individual who has endured a similarly wanting season, rather than being consigned to a second consecutive year in a number two role.
Time is something Vettel can count on, unlike Alonso, who cannot afford to wait another three or four seasons to possess the class of the field.
Credit has to be given to Vettel for making the call to leave he comfort zone he has counted on for the best part of two decades. It is this notion which has the potential to define his legacy. If he can turn the outfit he is set to join – Ferrari, into the force they were in the early-2000’s, something Alonso was not able to manage despite his best efforts, the German will go down as one of the all-time greats.
As for his legacy at Red Bull, nobody can take away the four championships – won in succession, it is a period which both parties will recall fondly for many years to come.