Dubai: As Sebastian Vettel’s RB9 flew across the finish line after 55 laps at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in 2013, the German’s dominance in the sport seemed unparalleled. Finishing the race more than 30 seconds ahead of teammate Mark Webber, Vettel more or less hit cruise control and enjoyed a late-night drive as he waltzed to a comfortable victory in the fifth running of Formula One’s desert showdown.
And that wasn’t a one-off present to the thousands of fans lined up underneath that day’s solar eclipse either — Vettel established and maintained a commanding lead over the field for the entirety of the season. Statement victories in Bahrain, Canada, and Belgium all but sealed the truth that the next generation of drivers had well and truly arrived as he left the third-to-last race of the season with a 130-point margin over nearest competitor, Fernando Alonso.
This past weekend in Austria, the air temperature hovered around a cool 22 degrees for qualifying, but inside the now 31-year-old’s cockpit — and mind — one could argue that it was significantly warmer. During Vettel’s six-minute wait in the garage, he was left helpless as an engine pressure issue could not be resolved in time for him to set a lap time. All he could do was watch his 21-year-old Monégasque teammate, Charles Leclerc, set a new track record with the same power that he had sitting idle.
Vettel’s frustration could be traced back to his famous mishap in his home race last year, when he lost the car going into the simple hairpin before tumbling through the gravel and colliding head-on with the barrier. Kicking and screaming as he exited the car, the veteran driver’s dreams of winning his home race for the first time slipped by as coolly as the Renault behind him who un-lapped himself as the German was ushered off the track by marshals.
A heartbreaker, no doubt — yet, this simple mistake began to raise the question: what happened to Vettel?
Was this mistake a result of the incessant pressure that the Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Bottas applied all season long? Or, in a more matter-of-fact approach, was it just a bad mistake at the wrong time?
Whatever the answer, one thing is clear. Vettel’s pace is not where it should be. Currently lying in fourth place in the championship standings as the circus transitions to Silverstone in two weeks’ time, Vettel knows just as well as anybody that he has to make up ground, fast.
The Mercedes outfit will undoubtedly display rapid pace around Hamilton’s backyard, which could result in even more motivation for the Ferrari driver to tell the grid that he is just as, if not quicker, than his 10-years-junior teammate sitting across the garage from him.
To entice him even more, Vettel’s eyes will undoubtedly be looking slightly ahead in the schedule to Sunday, July 28 where he will get a chance at redemption at his beloved Hockenheimring.
It’s safe to say, he’ll pay special attention to Turn 13 — for old time’s sake, of course.
Aman Ailani is an intern at Gulf News.