Leaving Red Bull could be the making of Sebastian Vettel

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When Sebastian Vettel broke onto the F1 scene as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, the comparisons with Michael Schumacher were obvious from the go.

He even earned the nickname “Baby Schumi” as Germany’s next great F1 talent after claiming a shock win in 2008 for Toro Rosso at the Italian Grand Prix that loudly announced his arrival on the grand stage.

Six years later, Vettel’s potential has been realised. He is a four-time world champion, with only Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio boasting more world titles. So why do question marks about his ability still hang over his head?

Critics claim that Vettel’s success has not been self-induced – that is, without Red Bull (or more precisely, without Adrian Newey), he wouldn’t be fighting at the very front of the field. His waning title defence in 2014 has only furthered their argument.

Sebastian’s departure at the end of the season comes with the break-up of the ‘dream team’ at Red Bull. Newey is set to take up more of a mentor role for 2015 so he can focus on other projects with Red Bull, and race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin will move upstairs into a more senior position. Things are changing at Milton Keynes, just as they did at Ferrari when Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt all left. For Seb, now is the right time to leave.

And it could indeed be the making of him. Many said that Schumacher had to leave Benetton to truly establish himself as a world beater, while others scoffed at his decision to switch to the fading Ferrari team for the 1996 season. However, he soon proved them wrong, finishing with seven world titles upon his first retirement in 2006.

For Vettel, it’s a very similar case. Ferrari has openly said that its plan is not short-term, but long-term. It wants to be dominating the sport in the next three years or so, not immediately in 2015. Vettel has agreed a deal with the team knowing this, but also in the knowledge that he is the man to head up this charge.

“Baby Schumi” is a nickname that is becoming all the more poignant.

It’s a challenge that Vettel will relish, though. He will have, for the first time, the free rein to build a team around himself, just as Schumacher did. He will be racing in the first James Allison-designed Ferrari in 2015, and is very much at the beginning of a new era at Maranello.

There is also the mystique of racing for Ferrari, even if the team isn’t a world beater. Schumacher did it, Prost did it, Lauda did it, Senna would probably have done it – many of the greats of F1 enjoyed a stint with the Italian team. Vettel will be adding his name to this long list.

Vettel has a perfect chance to lay down a Schumacher-esque record over the coming years with Ferrari. He is set to become the highest paid driver in the sport, and knows that it is a ‘work in progress’. The weight of expectation has been enormous at Ferrari in the past, but from 2015, it will be reduced. Everyone knows that this is the beginning of something new at the team. Gone are Luca di Montezemolo, Stefano Domenicali and – soon to be – Fernando Alonso.

Alonso was perceived the be the man with the key to the 2015 driver market, yet it was Vettel who started the domino effect. His decision to leave Red Bull, and the team’s own decision to replace him with Daniil Kvyat, has left Alonso on the seat of his pants scrambling for a place on the grid next season. McLaren is the most likely destination, but his bargaining power has been reduced considerably because of Vettel’s move.

Seb has a golden chance to silence his critics and see what life outside of Red Bull is like in 2015. It could well be the making of him.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.