I suppose I should preface this article by saying that I rather like Sebastian Vettel, or at least I think I do. If I don’t do that, I fear that German fans will soon be bristling with nationalistic hurt, yelling “Achtung Englander” and rushing off to look for grandad’s pistol. So I think it is best to say that I have nothing against Germans, and I would say the same thing if Seb came from Rothenberg, Rotterdam, Rottingdean or Romford…. Having lived in Europe for 20-odd years I am rather more European in outlook than some of my generation and my opinions are not based on some antiquated view that the English and the Germans like taking potshots at one another.
I think Sebastian is an exceptional racing driver and he has shown on occasion that he has quite considerable intellect as well. It’s hard to really know more than that because these days drivers are rarely allowed out of captivity to talk to the media. There is no such thing as a one-to-one interview and the best one can ever hope for is the occasional al fresco chat in the paddock and they only really happen when you have known a driver personally from very early in his career. I have always felt that a lot of F1 drivers would greatly benefit from talking to the media more because the scribblers – oddly, given the reputation of the evil press – are one of the few groups in F1 where one can find feet still attached to the ground. The mechanics are good for that too, and the motor home folk, but I guess we are all seen as servants to the stars and not people worthy to see the real men behind the masks. Dealing with real human beings rather than plastic Action Men figures spouting out stock answers is so much more enjoyable – and sadly rare. And that’s what I like about Vettel because he tries to give proper intelligent answers to questions, even if the people around him will not let the media get close.
What I don’t like at the moment is his complaining about the new Formula 1 cars, while failing to back up his arguments with any sensible justifications. Yes, I get it that he wants to drive cars with 1000 horsepower, but he wasn’t doing that last year and we did not hear him whining about winning nine consecutive races… Did we? In any case, who wants to invest in cars with 1000 horsepower? You cannot sell them because only bling-encrusted squillionaires can afford them and even they get bored with their toys because they have to keep stopping to refuel the damned things.
Vettel talks of wanting a sport that is “loud and dangerous”, but one cannot blame the new rules for safety improvements. The sport has been wildly safe for the last 20 years. There is a reason for that: in the world of the Nanny State, one cannot kill people live on TV. You are still allowed to die climbing mountains, but only if it is not on live TV. There were solid commercial and strategic reasons why the sport became safer on the late 1990s, beyond the obvious humanitarian campaign.
Vettel says he wants to drive fast cars but he seems to have missed the fact that the cars today are faster in a straight line than they were last year. He forgets also that last year’s cars -which he liked – were just as restricted as those today and perhaps more so given the lack of engine development. They had much the same horsepower and they did similar lap times.
I will give Sebastian the point about noise. The cars are quieter this year, but I am still to be convinced that this is a bad thing. F1 is not just about noise. In any case, the sound can be improved a little without needing to send people home with their ears bleeding.
So what is actually wrong with F1, apart from it having a dodgy reputation because of some rather “wide boy” deal-making, a few really sleazy-looking people, some poor political decisions about where the sport goes racing and an unhealthy desire of the money men to put the sport behind paywalls? The biggest problem for me is the almost drug addict-like dependence on cash that the teams have, a habit which they clearly cannot support for much longer. I also don’t like the fact that the playing field is not at all level with big teams getting big pay-offs that should not exist.
There are a few drivers who have secured their drives with cash but every one of them has a decent record in the junior formulae, which is not something one could have said 10 years ago.
In truth, I don’t think there’s much wrong with F1 that a new broom could not fix pretty rapidly.
I hope to see Sebastian challenging for victory soon, but I do find it interesting that he seems to be having trouble beating his own team-mate. Maybe Mark Webber was a more valuable member of the team than Vettel would like to remember. In any case, I have a fairly simple view of the sport. If someone is not enjoying it, there is nothing to stop them walking out of the paddock – as Niki Lauda famously did way back when – there is a world out there brimming with things for a wealthy twentysomething person to do with his time and money.
If he doesn’t like the rules, he could even try to become the FIA President and get them changed…