Coy Vettel Refuses To Count His Chickens
It says something about the psychology of a Formula One driver that Sebastian Vettel refuses to admit that this year’s drivers’ championship is all but won. ‘We will see,’ he says, and we can all picture the customary eye-twinkle that accompanies such a glaringly tongue-in-cheek comment.
For the record, the German driver is now a monstrous 112 points clear of his nearest rival, Fernando Alonso. Vettel’s current tally stands at 284, and with just six races remaining, and therefore a maximum of 150 points available to his rivals, Vettel is in effect just one good race weekend away from clinching his second crown. He would be the youngest man – and he is only just that – to achieve such a feat, statement enough indeed.
Vettel’s win at Monza last weekend only served to strengthen his hold on the championship. Whilst his rivals scrapped over podium places or – in Mark Webber’s case – threatened to investigate Monza’s surrounding forest, the German calmly streaked clear to claim his eighth win of an astonishingly dominant season. Fellow Red Bull driver Webber must be scratching his head as to how he is yet to record a victory in 2011 despite driving the fastest car on the grid – thirteen Red Bull pole positions in thirteen races testify to as much.
Alas, unless what Webber describes as ‘a very, very incredible finish’ transpires, the title will be staying with Vettel for another year. ‘I think we are all battling for second place now,’ continues Webber, something Alonso vehemently agrees with: ‘Not mathematically but we are no longer in contention. […] We are fighting for second place in the championship.’ Put more succinctly, the Spaniard believes the challenge of ousting Vettel, this season at least, is ‘impossible.’
McLaren-Mercedes driver Jenson Button, currently sitting third in the championship just five points behind Alonso with two race wins to his name this season, also believes that there is ‘no chance’ that Vettel can be caught. Button’s teammate and the fifth-placed driver in the championship, Lewis Hamilton, is slightly more optimistic: ‘First is always the target, and then you take whatever you can when it becomes impossible, and it’s still not impossible.’ However, even Hamilton is willing to concede that ‘it would be sensible to focus on […] next year’s car.’
Perhaps Vettel’s rivals are slyly trying to coax him into a false sense of security, hoping that he might ease off and, somehow, the most unlikely of championships will be won. Truthfully, that borders on the fanciful. Realistically, they all know that the title is staying with Vettel. Of course they will still chase victories at each of the remaining rounds – ‘You still want to win every race. That doesn’t suddenly change because there’s no championship to win,’ stated Button earlier this week – but in all likelihood it will not change the destination of this year’s drivers’ world championship.
The fact that Vettel’s four main rivals, one way or another, have all conceded this year’s crown with six races remaining is a powerful notion on two counts. Firstly, it speaks volumes for Vettel’s dominance this season, but secondly it is remarkable that his gargantuan contemporaries – motoring’s equivalent of the Übermensch no less – of Alonso, Hamilton, Button and Webber should admit to being second-best whilst there is still a chance, albeit a small one, of claiming victory.
Normally these guys have an in-built belief that they are the best and that they are not beaten until they are mathematically vanquished. In a sport where the smallest percentages can make the difference, they vehemently and defensively reject the slightest criticism or inference of inferiority. To admit defeat now is to admit a weakness that might count against them in years to come. ‘Never give up,’ goes the common logic with top-level sportsmen, not least those willing to fly around at speeds in excess of 200mph with occasionally just concrete walls to slow them down.
And, amusingly, whilst Alonso calls his title chances ‘impossible,’ Webber admits that he is ‘battling for second,’ Button concedes he has ‘no chance,’ and Hamilton deems it ‘sensible to focus on next year,’ Vettel refuses to acknowledge that he has essentially got his second world drivers’ title wrapped up.
‘There is still some way to go,’ Vettel suggests, obviously refusing to count his chickens just yet. ‘We are in a very strong position,’ he continues without a trace of understatement, but … ‘we’ll see.’ Oh come on, Seb… do us a favour! It seems somewhat laughable that whilst virtually every driver, pundit and fan is willing to anoint him as this year’s champion, the man himself is the only one who refuses to call it.
In Vettel’s defence, however, he is just paying deference to the old adage that ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings,’ or in Formula One’s case: it ain’t over until the boyish German raises that pesky index finger and says ‘that’s what I’m talking about’ one more time, which on current evidence will be sometime very soon…