Evening all. As Mercedes’ Formula One team were celebrating an unprecedented seventh consecutive constructors championship after Lewis Hamilton’s victory at Imola on Sunday, I couldn’t help but be entirely bored. Mercedes’ success is astounding and the team deserves all the relevant plaudits, but they have been utterly dominant for so long now that it is damaging the appeal of Formula One as a spectator sport.
Thankfully, there are a number of things going on further down the grid that add a sprinkling of excitement and intrigue to proceedings. With just four races left of this truncated 2020 season, big gaps are opening up in performances and results between teammates. At Red Bull, Max Verstappen continues to dominate and has now built a commanding 98-point lead over Alex Albon. The British-Thai driver is simply not capable of getting anywhere near Verstappen and, as more and more mistakes creep in, is trying too hard to close the gap. He cuts a tormented and broken figure in interviews and will surely soon be put out of his misery by team principal Christian Horner and co.
On form alone, Sergio Perez must be high on the list of candidates to take the second Red Bull seat alongside Verstappen next year. After booking his fifth consecutive top-seven finish at Imola, the Racing Point driver is dominating his teammate Lance Stroll with 82 points compared to the Canadian’s 57. Yet it is Stroll, not Perez, who has been retained for next season, leaving the Mexican in a race against time to secure a drive for 2021. Perez would be a solid and reliable foil for the maverick brilliance of Verstappen, but Red Bull rarely shop outside of their internal driver program so it would be a big shock if they were to plump for the 30-year-old.
The thing that is most irking me with the driver merry-go-round this year is Racing Point’s decision to sign Sebastian Vettel in place of Perez. I understand that the Ferrari driver is a four-time world champion and 53-time race winner. I understand that his record throughout his career is a huge draw for any team with ambitions of fighting for victories. But I also understand a driver’s powers can wilt and wane over time. The Vettel that dominated for Red Bull has not been seen on the grid for several years now and the German simply does not deserve to have a seat at a leading, up-and-coming team like Racing Point when there are other drivers (not least Perez himself) more deserving of the role.
Indeed, I would argue that perhaps the most striking variation in intra-team performance this season is the one playing out at Ferrari. Granted, Vettel is up against an immense talent in Charles Leclerc but the 33-year-old is getting completely embarrassed. While Leclerc has secured two podiums and four other top-six finishes this year, Vettel’s best result is a sixth-place in Hungary. In the last seven races Leclerc has scored 40 points compared to Vettel’s 0.
The story is equally one-sided on Saturdays. Leclerc has outqualified Vettel at all but two of the races in 2020. Indeed, the German has not made it into Q3 since Silverstone some 10 races and four months ago. In a difficult, struggling and below-par Ferrari, the young Monegasque is excelling while his more-illustrious teammate falls deeper into mediocrity.
|Race||Leclerc grid||Vettel grid|
Not a blip
Given the length and consistency of this trend, Vettel’s results cannot be put down to a blip in form. Form is by definition a transient measurement, but the German has been producing these results for well over a year now. So there are, I would suggest, only two possible explanations for his performances: either he is simply no longer the elite-level driver he was from 2008-2013 or he is no longer interested in driving in Formula One.
If the former is true and Vettel is not able to perform at elite level anymore, what then gives him the right to a seat at the front of the grid? After excelling in Formula 3, he was rightly given a chance in Formula One as a teenager by Sauber in 2006. Thanks to his strong performances in the midfield, he was then promoted to a top team and enjoyed fantastic, well-earned success. But it must also work the other way; his output in the latter half of his Ferrari career does not merit his place in Formula One next year. Just as he was given his chance, it is now right that the drivers further down the field who are actually performing well – like Perez, George Russell and Pierre Gasly – are given an opportunity in a front-line car.
If, on the other hand, the latter is true and Vettel is no longer interested in Formula One (which his dour media appearances of late would have me believe), then there is even less of a case for him to remain in the sport. It is the most-coveted racing division in the world, a dream to which thousands of young drivers aspire to. If he doesn’t care anymore or if he feels like he has achieved all he can in the sport, he should make may for new talent by stepping aside instead of taking a couple of extra years to further bolster his bank balance.
Even if I don’t particularly like Vettel as a driver or competitor – he appears slightly arrogant and has repeatedly proven to be a sore loser – he seems like a decent-enough human being. I am sure that he would not have accepted the challenge at Racing Point if he wasn’t excited by it. But that doesn’t change the fact that, based on form and quality, he no longer deserves such a chance. Elite sport must always be a meritocracy; sadly in Formula One, it often isn’t.
Right, that’s about all from me today. Have a good start to the week everyone and I’ll be back here with more on Wednesday.
–What do you think about Vettel’s contract at Racing Point? Does Perez deserve a chance at Red Bull? Let me know in the comments section below!–