Sebastian Vettel

The Fallen Champion: Inside Sebastian Vettel’s title defence

1 Comment

2014 has seen the established status quo in Formula 1 get shaken up and written off. After four-and-a-half years of omnipotence, Red Bull has finally been overthrown and become – whisper it – second best.

The team is still a force to be reckoned with in Formula 1, as proven by Daniel Ricciardo’s victory in Montreal. The cheery Australian has quickly shown that he has what it takes to fight at the front in F1 following years of midfield mediocrity with Toro Rosso. After just seven races, he has already got his feet under the table and made himself a focal part of Red Bull’s future in the sport.

Instead, the pressure lies with the last man we expected it to be on: Sebastian Vettel. Four times a champion of the world, and sights on becoming one of the greatest of all time, yet the question marks remain after a poor start to the season. Just what has happened to Sebastian Vettel in 2014?

They say that a bad workman blames his tools, but in Formula 1, it is perhaps permitted. Ultimately, the best driver in the worst car won’t win. Vettel did something close to that at Monza in 2008, when he took his Toro Rosso to a famous victory in torrential rain, but in regular conditions, he wasn’t a front-runner. A future star, without question, but he wasn’t going to win the title with Red Bull’s B team. The car simply was not good enough.

And this is true of 2014. It’s a mix of Mercedes being so devastatingly good with the W05 Hybrid and Red Bull struggling with the RB10. However, much of these woes lie with the power unit. Red Bull is a customer of Renault: it pays the bills, and gets shiny parts in return. For Mercedes, everything is in house. Its engine team at Brixworth works so closely with the Brackley designers and engineers, making it one cohesive unit. Renault’s lax start to the 2014 season has harmed its customers, so much so that it has been suggested that the French marque may even be billed for costing the teams prize money. It’s just tough luck for Red Bull that its faithful friend for the past seven years has dropped the ball.

Not all of the problems are Renault-specific though. In pursuit of another double in 2013, the team poured huge amounts of resources into developing the RB9 – perhaps unnecessarily. Sebastian Vettel’s charge to nine straight wins at the end of 2013 was jaw-dropping and mundane in equal doses, but as Red Bull continued to push, the other teams turned their attention to 2014.

Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey admitted earlier this year that the team had spent too much time on 2013 and not enough on the coming season, and in pre-season testing, the triumvirate of Newey, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko was crestfallen. How can they go from world champions to no hopers?

Many of the issues have since been combatted, and aerodynamically, the car is perhaps the best out there. Compared to Mercedes’ unified package of aero and power, though, the RB10 just cannot compete on the same level.

Vettel was left seething in Australia after an early retirement, yet Ricciardo’s charge to second place – then removed after a fuel irregularity – showed that the team still had a spark. What Seb did in Malaysia was quite superb. He managed to keep Nico Rosberg in sight for the majority of the race in spite of his compatriot’s superior car. Make no mistake of it: he can still hook it together; he didn’t win four world titles for nothing.

In terms of temperament, Vettel has established a reputation in the sport which is clear to those both inside and outside of the paddock. If things aren’t going his way, the dummy is spat out and the toys are thrown. His public rivalry with Mark Webber at Red Bull was volatile, but it stemmed from not have a ‘willing’ teammate; i.e. someone who will let him past to aid his championship bid.

So when Sebastian came to work with the RB10, it was clear not all was well. They say that a picture paints a thousand words, and in the case of this image from Bahrain (at the top of the article), it is very true. He was left frustrated last time out in Canada when the strategy did not play into his hands, leaving him stuck behind traffic and, crucially, trailing his teammate. Clearly, he isn’t yet at one with the car.

However, he can curb this, as we saw in 2012. In pursuit of a third world title, Vettel did not display the devastating pace as per 2011; instead, it took him around half of the season to actually get to grips with the RB8 car. Come the end of the European season, he had just one win to his name and trailed Fernando Alonso by 39 points in the drivers’ championship. He went on to win the next four races and claimed two further podium finishes, eventually clinching the title by three points. Once he was comfortable with the car, it all went his way again.

And perhaps the same could be said of 2014. After the seismic changes made to the regulations, the cars are more difficult to work with once again. The loss of exhaust blowing – using the gases to increase downforce  – has clearly been to his detriment. Ricciardo, on the other hand, has a style more in line with the new cars, it seems.

There might also be a case for the outside factors affecting Vettel – primarily, fatherhood. Unlike his peers, Sebastian likes to live his life outside of the public eye. His partner, Hanna, rarely comes to races, and news of her pregnancy only emerged around three months before she gave birth to their daughter, Emily. Although Sebastian has denied that it has had an effect on him, it might be worth considering.

Romain Grosjean was dubbed as the ‘crash kid’ of Formula 1 after last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, with Mark Webber even coining the verb “Grosjeaned” such were his antics. However, once he became a dad to Baby Sacha, his form improved dramatically, and he has since become one of the emerging stars of the sport. He denies that being a father has changed him, though.

“I was lucky that my baby slept through the night!” he joked in Austria. “It doesn’t change much in the car, but I don’t think it’s related. Back home it changes you, but in the car you’re still doing the job.”

That said, behind the race suits, they are just human beings.

In reality, Sebastian is still the same driver has was at the end of last season. He is still the supremely quick and talented individual that has conquered Formula 1 for the past four years. Given the right tools, he would be fighting for title number five alongside the Mercedes duo, but he isn’t totally comfortable with the car at the moment.

When asked about Red Bull’s season so far, Fernando Alonso was confident that Vettel would soon curb the teething problems. “I think Daniel is doing a fantastic job, and Sebastian was also doing a good job in some races with some bad luck, but I’m sure that at the end of the year is when you need to see how the championship went.

“I’m sure that Sebastian will come back very strong sooner or later, so we will see.”

As his 2012 campaign showed, once he gets to grips with the RB10 – and once the team and engine supplier have removed their gremlins – Vettel will once again be at the top table in Formula 1. Underestimate him at your peril.

Ferrari F1 chief Arrivabene ‘honored’ to be working with Haas

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ferrari Formula 1 chief Maurizio Arrivabene says he is “honored” to have been working with the Haas team through its debut season in the sport.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his F1 operation make its grand prix debut in Australia back in March, with Romain Grosjean finishing sixth on debut.

The Haas team arrives in Austin, Texas this weekend for the United States Grand Prix, becoming the first American outfit in 30 years to be racing on home soil.

Haas has enjoyed an extensive technical partnership with Ferrari through its debut season, with part of the deal seeing Esteban Gutierrez race alongside Grosjean.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, Arrivabene expressed his happiness with the Haas partnership, saying the American team’s approach to F1 is an example that could be followed.

“I’m happy about our partnership with Gene. And also, I have to say, honored, to work with Haas,” Arrivabene said.

“The reason why is that it’s an example to follow. In the way that they come in, they are investing in Formula 1, they trust in Formula 1, they are very serious, very committed.

“In many, many years I saw people coming in, taking here or there some points, having the money in the pocket and leaving.

“Team Haas is not like this. It’s an example to follow in the way that they come in, they have an objective, they’re working for their objective and they have a long-term commitment.

“So, I’m more than pleased and I repeat, honored to work with a team like this. Formula 1 needs serious people.”

The other team bosses in the press conference also offered complimentary remarks about Haas’ debut season.

“I think they’ve had a great first year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

“First of all, it’s super to have a credible team on the grid. Haas has got a great track record in motorsport in this territory and to come into Formula 1 is no insignificant challenge.

“So, to have come in, to have come in credibly and efficiently and gone about scoring a good portion of points, being competitive, I think it’s very, very positive.”

“The track record of Gene in the States speaks really for itself and how they’ve done in the first year is impressive,” Mercedes’ Toto Wolff added.

“Like Gene said, we’ve been around for many years and he’s competing against teams who have built-up infrastructure and capability over decades and doing as good in the first year is really good.”

“I think they’ve done a great job and in particular because they are ahead of us so they are some form of nightmare to us, to the championship,” Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul joked.

“Mostly I think it is interesting because they are showing that, as always, the points you are taking at the start of the season are very important. They almost count twice or three times more.

“Also, that in Formula 1 it’s important to have planning and preparation time. So it’s quite different and in contrast to our situation at Renault, where we sort of arrive in Melbourne in a bit of a panic mode, unprepared, with more resources.

“So it’s all to the credit of Gene and his team, but I think they are compensating, through planning and a clever business model and the relationship with Ferrrari, the lack of resources that they have in comparison to other teams.

“The challenge obviously is to make that sustainable on the long run. That’s obviously what I wish to the team.”

Sauber decision to keep 2016 power units for ’17 ‘not financially driven’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sauber Formula 1 boss Monisha Kaltenborn says that the decision to stick with 2016-spec Ferrari power units for the 2017 season is “not at all financially driven”.

Kaltenborn confirmed over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend that Sauber would not take updated power units for 2017 from Ferrari, saying the team preferred to focus on other areas of development.

“We know there is a big [regulation] change coming up and with the size we have and the capacities we have, we needed to focus on that change,” Kaltenborn explained further on Friday in Austin ahead of the United States Grand Prix.

“We didn’t want to wait for that long, whatever changes might come on the engine side or not. It’s clear that the engine supplier wants to develop as much as he can until the end of the possibilities, and we didn’t want to wait that long.

“We decided to work around what we know. We have sufficient information on that environment around the engine. So we can now focus totally on the chassis side and on performance development.”

Sauber has struggled financially in recent years, but had its long-term future secured over the summer when Longbow Finance completed a takeover of the operation in Switzerland.

While the decision to stick with year-old power units may seem like a money-saving exercise, Kaltenborn stressed that this was not the case.

“This is not at all financially driven. This is technically driven and we think it’s the right way ahead for us,” she said.

Toro Rosso has raced with year-old Ferrari power units throughout 2016, and has lost ground in recent races as other teams using current-spec designs have been able to continue development.

Toro Rosso will return to a Renault supply for 2017, making Sauber currently standing as the only team on the grid that will be using 2016 power units beyond the end of the season.

Taylor Swift ready to get into a F1 frame of mind Saturday at COTA

"One Chance" Portraits - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
(Getty Images)
1 Comment

If you’re a fan of both Formula One and singer Taylor Swift, you should be at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Swift will perform her only scheduled concert of 2016 after Saturday’s action concludes on the racetrack.

To get her fans even more excited about the concert, Swift – who is apparently already in Austin for rehearsals – took to Instagram earlier this week and posted several videos.

The first clip was a short scene showing Swift playing an acoustic guitar.

At rehearsals @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The second clip, which she captioned “Band practice,” showed Swift and her band rocking out on her 2012 hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Band practice @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

And then the third Instagram clip shows an exuberant Swift proclaiming, “Hey guys, I can’t wait to see you this weekend in Austin, Texas.”

See you this weekend! @cota_official @f1 #USGP

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Then, as the camera continued rolling, Swift good-naturedly quipped, “Just said that so they don’t go to the wrong place. You know, people get lost.”

The weekend will be special for Swift, 26. Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the release of her debut album.

Also, several reports indicate that she may debut songs from a rumored new album that may be released later this month.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar: Tony Kanaan keeps his word, much to fans’ delight

Phoenix International Raceway - Day 1
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tony Kanaan has long been one of the classiest drivers in the IndyCar world.

He proved that once again – as well as being a man of his word – recently.

Kanaan was slated to speak last Thursday, Oct. 13, to the Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County, Indiana. Among topics he was slated to talk about in the fundraising event were life lessons and the importance of keeping your word/promise.

But Kanaan also had to take part in a Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone tire test at the same time at Gateway Motorsports Park, nearly 300 miles away from the B&GC event in Richmond, Indiana.

Even though he agreed to speak at the club meeting several months ago, Kanaan could easily have simply cancelled. But he went the extra distance by reaching out to former IndyCar driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to substitute for him.

Luyendyk had to travel all the way from his home in Phoenix, but was glad to fill in for Kanaan.

B&GC executive director Bruce Daggy was happy that Luyendyk stepped up, but also “I was sad we weren’t going to have Tony here,” Daggy told “We had invested in it.”

Indeed, Kanaan’s appearance had been heavily promoted, including posted on nearly 20 billboards in and around the Richmond area.

Even with Luyendyk as his fill-in, Kanaan still felt bad about cancelling.

“I hate to make commitments I can’t fulfill,” Kanaan told “I put myself in their shoes. If I was coming to an event to see a person and they didn’t show, I would understand, but I would feel bad. So, I didn’t want to let anybody down, especially in Indiana.”

MORE: Click here for the full story

That’s when the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion hatched a plan. Close friend and fellow driver Scott Dixon got on board by chartering a private plane to fly Kanaan from St. Louis to Richmond as soon as the tire test concluded at 6 pm ET.

When the plane landed about an hour later, Kanaan was given a police escort to Richmond High School, where the event had been moved to accommodate the large crowd when it was announced Kanaan would be the featured speaker.

“I just felt that there is always a way and we would make it happen,” Kanaan said, even though he arrived close to the event’s scheduled conclusion. Instead, his arrival extended the event, to the glee of those in the audience.

“The guy chartered a plane,” Daggy said. “That tells me he is a real man of character.”

Added Kanaan, “Getting me here was everybody’s effort. I had a blast. It was worth it.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski