Sebastian Vettel has been undefeated since the summer break ended. Not since the Hungarian Grand Prix in July has anyone else had stood on the top step of the podium.
The scale of Vettel’s success invites comparisons with the peaks of dominance achieved by drivers like Michael Schumacher, Jim Clark and Alberto Ascari.
With ten wins under his belt this year and three remaining, Vettel could tie Schumacher’s record of winning 13 races in a season (achieved in 2004, when there was one fewer event on the calendar).
His six consecutive wins means he could equal Schumacher and Ascari’s record winning seven consecutive races. Ascari actually went further – he won nine consecutive starts in 1952 and 1953, missing one of the races – but Vettel is on course to match that 60-year-old record.
This kind of sustained success is not unprecedented but it is extremely rare. For Vettel to do it at a time when the technical rules are tighter than ever makes it especially impressive.
Ascari typically won races by a minute or more as Ferrari’s 500 was the class of the field at a time when the championship was briefly run to F2 rules.
In 2004 Schumacher enjoyed virtually bespoke tires from Bridgestone and had unlimited testing to hone them to his exact specifications. Vettel, like everyone else in the field, gets what he’s given.
The mid-season change in tire construction (on safety grounds following the explosions seen at Silverstone) are probably part of the explanation for Red Bull’s step forward. Yes, Vettel was already ahead in the championship before then and Hamilton won the first race on the new tires, but the RB9 seems to have extracted more from them than any other car.
But Vettel knows these times won’t last forever. The coming overhaul of the technical regulations represents the biggest challenge to his four-year F1 supremacy so far, as he acknowledged after claiming the title yesterday:
“It’s a big, big, big project waiting for us next year. I think teams like Mercedes, Ferrari spend a lot of time thinking of new ideas. It’s a new car, it’s a new engine so it will be an incredibly big challenge.”