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.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III