Whilst there’s a lot of people hanging their balls in the pool very early on Fridays, we’re still here working very hard and pushing very hard.”
- Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel doesn’t care how boring it looks. He doesn’t care that consistent domination isn’t exciting. All Sebastian Vettel does is win races. He’s the best driver in the world.
So why does everybody hate him so much?
Now using the word ‘everybody’ is a bit of a straw man. Vettel’s fellow racers have defended him from disgruntled fans. Singapore, Malaysia, wherever the circuit is on a given week, Vettel has been subjected to boos atop the podium.
On Sunday, the German captured the Formula One driver’s championship. It’s fitting that the race for the number one spot ended in India, a course that may never be used again by Bernie Eccelstone’s posse due to a myriad of political problems, including accusations of tax evasion and the bureaucratic nightmare that is clearing customs.
Formula One has always been influenced by politics. Team tactics, where events are staged; transparency? Don’t make me laugh.
It was like this in 1984, when Aryton Senna’s run at the title in Monaco was cut short by a red flag that resulted in another win for Alain Prost. Eventually Senna’s talent couldn’t be hampered by organizational gangsterism.
In this way, Formula One has also been consistent. The best find a way. Sometimes they did it by moving to a new team, like Senna did when he left Toleman for Loftus and then McLaren. Other times the technology takes over.
Is it Vettel or Red Bull?
There are two explanations for the Vettel hate.
Reason one: Red Bull is gaming the system. That’s why their cars are destroying the competition on a weekly basis.
Since 2008 F1 has banned traction control and every car uses the same Engine Control Unit all of which are inspected by F1 management at every race. The cars are subject to intense inspection before every race. Simply put, it’s impossible to cheat.
Apparently, Red Bull has found a way around this. Wired’s Damon Lavrinc wrote on this subject a few weeks ago:
The leading speculation, posited by Racecar Engineering, is that Red Bull has managed to link the suspension in Vettel’s RB9 to the hybrid Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) onboard. KERS has been around for a few years and gives drivers a power boost in short bursts, and because it’s an electric motor, the torque output can be tweaked on-the-fly — just like a traditional traction control system.
By linking the suspension to KERS, when the pressure in the shocks changes while going through a corner or over a bump, the RB9 could limit power when compressed and boost power when expanded, all without interacting with the ECU and running afoul of the FIA’s regulations.
The technology allows Vettel to put his foot down when other drivers can’t, but that’s not cheating. Gaming the system is why Formula One exists. The engineers that generate new ways to get faster within the rules become legends, like Adrian Newey at Williams.
None of Vettel’s rivals are crying foul, not even after the German trounced the field in Singapore. Christian Horner, Red Bull’s Technical Director, hit out at the conspiracy theorists.
It’s complete rubbish. We’re running traction control through the ECUs which are supplied by McLaren and approved by the FIA? They fully comply with the rules, it’s a standard unit which all the teams use, and any suggestion of traction control is either mischievous on behalf of the others or wishful thinking,” retorted the Red Bull Team Principal.
These things are so tightly controlled that it is impossible. You’d be pretty stupid to run traction control. I can’t imagine any team in the pitlane would even entertain it.
So then why the hate?
It must be Vettel
“I’m speechless,” said Vettel, after winning his fourth consecutive world title. “I don’t know what to say, I crossed the line and I was just empty. You want to think of something to say and I just can’t. It has been an amazing season, the spirit in the team is great and it is a pleasure to jump in the car and drive.”
Appreciating greatness should be one of the easier things we do as fans, but there is something endearing about cheering against the best. When Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Michael Schumacher won, it was almost a non-story. Columnist mails a 800 word piece on ‘excellence’ and ‘what it mean’s’ for ‘society ‘ and we go on our way. When they lost is when it got interesting. Maybe Woods won’t catch Jack. Can Federer really be the best ever if he can’t beat Nadal. He drives a Ferrari, he should win.
In that sense, Vettel has more in common with Schumacher than heritage.
Vettel has the best car in the world, but he’s also the best driver. The reason the fans–and I’m speaking for the lads who find it necessary to boo people in general, basically the scum that walks among us–find it so infuriating is because it’s boring. Excellence is boring. And I know that makes the first world problems hashtag look like the work of Gauguin, but it’s true.
He’s also a bit ornery, in the mold of Woods. He stole, depending on who you ask, teammate Mark Webber’s title in Malaysia after ignoring team orders that stated he should not pass the Australian. Subtle jabs at his fellow racers for not working hard enough are made with a wink and a nod. He’s not the people’s champion in more way than one.
It’s not Vettel’s fault he doesn’t have a Prost or a Nadal. It’s not his fault that Red Bull has found a way to get the best out of their car. It’s not his fault he works incredibly hard to ensure sustained success at the highest level of his sport.
It has been hard for me in particular. To be booed when I have not done anything wrong was hard, but I think I answered it on the track, which I am very pleased about.
The 26-year-old is six years younger than Schumacher was when he became the four-time champion in 2001. If he wins the final three races of the season he will have won nine consecutive grand prixs, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 1950s.
The implementation of new regulations–which include new engine formula and the introduction of more powerful energy recovery systems–are expected to make next season more competitive, but anticipating anything less than another title for Vettel is foolish.
He doesn’t have Twitter and excels at keeping his personal life out of the papers. Unfortunately for the denizens of the hating class, Vettel is damn good at winning.
To keep an audience you need the personalties. Hopefully the 2014 season sees a team and driver give Red Bull and Vettel a fight.
However, it’s not going to be easy.