Forget Lewis, Vettel is Rosberg’s greatest indictment

Lewis Hamilton lies on the precipice of a third World Championship, the Briton a considerable prospect of invoking title-elect status at the United States Grand Prix in Austin this weekend.

Though the 30-year old’s campaign has been peerless, cantering towards a second consecutive crown with ease, it is the name lying second in the drivers’ standings which is the greatest indictment on team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Sebastian Vettel has represented a model of consistency throughout his maiden campaign at Ferrari, gleaning eleven podiums, finishing inside the top five at each event – save for his dramatic penultimate lap blowout at the Belgian Grand Prix whilst running third, condemning him to twelfth.

That he has enjoyed the same three victories as his countryman is academic. The four-time champion has established himself as not only the greatest threat to Hamilton for the balance of this campaign – however minute this prospect may be, but for the foreseeable future.

The erstwhile stance had been to dismiss Vettel’s swag of titles achieved at Red Bull as owing purely to the ingenuity of Adrian Newey. A wanting 2014 campaign led many to contemplate his ongoing commitment to Formula One. It stands to reason that many labelled his move to Marenello twelve months ago as career suicide.

Having witnessed the inexplicable souring of relations between Fernando Alonso and company – a combination deemed a match made in heaven, the consensus was that nobody could rescue the Prancing Horse from the abyss, yet the German has comprehensively silenced his executioners this season.

Where this leaves Rosberg poses the greatest dilemma, not that many are overly concerned. The reality is that the brand presented by the victor of 11 Grands Prix is uninspiring – notwithstanding a spate of reliability issues, he is not an individual exuding World Champion material.

He is a renowned nice guy who attempts to portray a rough and ready persona, though frequently to no avail when it counts. Hamilton, conversely, possesses a veneer of aloofness – yet it is he who delivers most weekends, as opposed to only Sundays as was the case in 2014. The effect is that 2016 looms as the campaign which defines Rosberg’s career.

Rubens Barrichello realised this rapidly during his colourful tenure at Maranello. He was a defeated man the moment he let Michael Schumacher through metres from the chequered flag at the infamous 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Mark Webber was acutely aware that he was second-billing shortly following Vettel’s arrival at Milton Keynes from Toro Rosso in 2009.

So long as Hamilton remains at Brackley and claiming the majority of races, he is their main man. Having renewed his association with the Silver Arrows until 2018, it’s hard to see the Briton succumbing to the German’s meek advances. Perhaps Rosberg is content to drive out his days, picking up the occasional victory and handsomely remunerated for his efforts.

It’s the other German who poses the greatest threat to the Hamilton-Mercedes supremacy, in tandem with his red machine, a mouth-watering prospect which has been sadly lacking in recent seasons.

 

As though a potential second place in the standings in his initial campaign for the fabled marque isn’t incentive enough, Sebastian Vettel is going to be the man taking it to Lewis Hamilton in the years to come. For Rosberg, the equation is simple – he must shape up or ship out, otherwise he’ll represent a mere footnote in the record books.

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The Ferrari-Alonso legacy

Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marks Fernando Alonso’s ninety-sixth and final event representing Ferrari.

Confirmation of the Spaniard’s departure following five seasons was made by Ferrari in conjunction with the sport’s worst kept secret – that four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, is joining Maranello from next season.

The 2005 & 2006 champion leaves the Italian marque two years before his contract was due to expire, with the strain of multiple failed title bids finally proving too much.

Barring a fond farewell under the Yas Marina lights, the Spaniard will boast 11 victories and 44 podiums from his time in red. Yet, it could have been so much more.

Alonso had one hand on title number three in 2010. From a forty-seven point deficit following the British Grand Prix, the Spaniard enjoyed a golden run to find himself leading the standings, eight points clear of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and a further seven up on the Australian’s team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, heading to the finale at Abu Dhabi. On paper, all he needed to do was turn up to become champion.

History shows that Ferrari committed a supreme tactical blunder in following Webber’s ultimately inferior strategy – one which consigned Alonso to a frustrating evening behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, whilst Vettel drove off under the lights to pinch the crown that very few had anticipated.

Two years later, with a car which had been described as woeful during pre-season testing, Alonso found himself forty points clear of Vettel mid-year. Red Bull’s aggressive in-season development and traditional late campaign resurgence saw the German claim the lead. Nevertheless, Alonso went to the finale hopeful of success. Heartbreakingly for the Spaniard, Vettel recovered from opening lap near disaster at Brazil to snare enough points to ensure a third consecutive title.

Multiple victories in the opening five events of his 2013 campaign had many convinced that Alonso was finally set to make the long awaited breakthrough. Remarkably, his triumph on home soil at the Spanish Grand Prix that season remains his latest. With this, the inevitability of the Ferrari-Alonso marriage failing to produce the ultimate glory become more of a reality.

Ferrari hasn’t looked anywhere near in contention this season. Alonso’s best efforts, quite probably resulting in his finest campaign to date, has been the only saving grace from an otherwise embarrassing maiden campaign under the new regulations.

That he came within two laps of victory at Hungary is testament to his underlying reputation as the best driver on the grid, even if his lack of a title during his past eight seasons betrays this notion.

For this reason, the Spaniard’s logic in calling time is understandable. From all appearances, Ferrari is two or three years away from being title protagonists, let alone the class of the field, once again.

Sebastian Vettel has the luxury of time on his side – as Michael Schumacher did before him. The German is aware that he might not enjoy the success he found so frequently at Red Bull until nearing the end of the decade.

Alonso will likely not be in the sport in five years’ time, so he is willing to throw it all on the line for a shot at the elusive third title.

McLaren is his destination according to all under the sun, yet no official announcement has come. The outcome of the initial McLaren-Honda public outing at the post-season Abu Dhabi test is surely the precursor to what would represent the worst kept secret on par with Vettel joining Ferrari.

Rumours persist of a sabbatical, but more likely, a one-season with an option, get out clause at Woking, which would enable to Spaniard to flee, ostensibly to Mercedes in 2016, should a certain Lewis Hamilton decide he wants to return “home.”

Irrespective of the Spaniard’s future destination, the fact is that his Ferrari stint will conclude as a dismal failure on what was promised as a dynasty which was supposed to recreate the outfit’s golden era witnessed at the turn of the century.

What next for Fernando Alonso?

As the motorsport community reflects on the unfortunate events of the Japanese Grand Prix and prays for the welfare of Jules Bianchi, the big story prior to this concerned the future of Fernando Alonso.

There may have been no official announcement, but the revelation which blindsided many – that Sebastian Vettel is departing Red Bull, with little attempt made by either party to deny he is destined for Ferrari, as good as confirmed the relationship between the Alonso and Maranello is concluding.

The Spaniard has been linked heavily to McLaren, whom he represented previously for a solitary season – a highly fractious 2007 campaign, with Honda returning to the sport in conjunction with the outfit.

Yet the two-time champion, whose other option – a direct swap with Vettel, was snuffed out as quickly as it arose with Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat promoted alongside Daniel Ricciardo for 2015, is reportedly posturing for a berth at Mercedes.

As it stands, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have contracts with the Silver Arrows for 2015. Thus, barring a spectacular falling out between parties, or the unlikely event of Hamilton being tempted into a McLaren return, it is highly improbable that Alonso will be at Brackley next season.

It might be that the 33-year old is set on forcing his way into what is shaping as the car of the field for the foreseeable future, and is willing to take a year out of the sport – and ostensibly pursue his cycling interests, whilst formulating a plan to join Mercedes in 2016.

The prospect of this being realised however is low. At this stage of his career, Alonso can ill afford to spend twelve months out of a sport where the state of affairs have a tendency to change overnight. The cautionary tale of fellow double champion, Mika Häkkinen, might be enough to persuade the Spaniard to remain on the grid. Citing burnout following 1998 & 1999 titles, coupled with the demands of a young family, the Finn served a sabbatical in 2002, which transformed into full-time retirement once he realised that he enjoyed life out of the spotlight. If Häkkinen’s permanent absence was disappointing, the mere thought of Alonso’s is devastating.

Taking a punt on McLaren, despite Ron Dennis’ prerogative to demand a multi-year commitment, with the eventual possibility of joining Brackley in 2017 once Rosberg comes out of contract, shapes as the best course of action.

The idea that Alonso might sign, if he is yet to do so – a direct contract with Honda, as opposed to McLaren, opens the door to the prospect of the Spaniard joining another outfit in 2016 should the Japanese marque provide its’ services beyond the Woking squad – thus keeping his options open if a second sojourn there is as volcanic as his first.

Wherever the Spaniard does end up, the Alonso-Ferrari relationship will be recalled as a failure. Commencing with multiple instances of so near yet to far, mediocrity – not for a lack of trying on the former’s part, and ultimately concluding in bitterness, the fact remains that eight years later, Fernando Alonso is still chasing title number three.

This pales in comparison however to the situation which presented itself on the weekend – a situation everybody fears but doesn’t expect, serving as a stark reminder that despite the accident’s unique nature, dangers are still inherent in Formula One. Now we wait and hope for good news regarding Jules Bianchi, the sport and the world is not ready to lose him.

The Vettel-Red Bull legacy

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.