Vettel leaves Red Bull with incredible legacy, even after tough 2014

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The reality, and finality, of Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull Racing has started to set in.

Earlier this week, the four-time World Champion said his last goodbyes to the team where he, along with Adrian Newey’s designs and the entirety of the crew’s efforts, performed a four-year assault on the record books.

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted when Vettel made his announcement to leave Red Bull during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, a move that turned the Formula One silly season on its axis, it could well mark the making of the man.

But while his final season with Red Bull will go down as perhaps his most frustrating yet in seven full seasons in F1, we must not forget what he did accomplish during those four title-winning glory years and his first season with the team the year previous. Remember only 12 months ago, the majority of F1 pundits were penning articles about what Vettel had accomplished, and in the wake of the Mercedes domination this year it can be easy to forget.

Here are some of the moments where we learned the most about Vettel, or saw him achieve such utter great heights during his time in Milton Keynes:

2009 CHINESE GRAND PRIX, FIRST RED BULL WIN

As he did in Monza the previous year with Scuderia Toro Rosso, Vettel made the most of mixed, cloudy and challenging conditions to drive to an authoritative victory in Shanghai. The STR win put the team formerly known as Minardi officially on the scoreboard, while his first Red Bull win was the first for the team since the former Stewart Grand Prix’s shock triumph in the 1999 European Grand Prix with Johnny Herbert driving. Vettel led teammate Mark Webber to Red Bull’s first 1-2 result, and set the initial footprint for the beginning of a five-year psychological war with his Australian teammate.

2009 BRITISH GRAND PRIX, DENYING BUTTON HOME GLORY

Brawn GP’s surreal start to the 2009 season was expected to see eventual World Champion Jenson Button have a home coronation at Silverstone. It didn’t happen. Vettel crushed the opposition with a dominant win from pole over Webber, with the best Brawn third-placed Rubens Barrichello, some 41+ seconds back. Button was sixth, never a factor.

2010 TURKISH GRAND PRIX, WHEEL-TO-WHEEL CONTACT WITH WEBBER

This was arguably Vettel’s most memorable Red Bull drive where he didn’t win. As he battled Webber for second place, the two collided on the backstraight. Neither took responsibility, but Red Bull management famously backed Vettel. Vettel was out on the spot while Webber, who wore the number two tag as his badge from that point forward, limped home to third behind the two McLarens.

2010 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, A DECISIVE WIN TO KEEP TITLE BATTLE ALIVE

Webber had four wins to Vettel’s two from the first 15 races. Vettel was on the fringe of championship elimination but a key win at Suzuka ensured he had a shot going into the final handful of races.

2010 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, THE FIRST TITLE WIN

Another Vettel win at Brazil meant both Red Bull drivers had a shot going to Abu Dhabi. Webber and Fernando Alonso’s respective strategies fell flat on their faces and Alonso had a race full of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault in front of him, Vettel cruised to the win and his first World Championship.

2011 MONACO GRAND PRIX, THE TIRE GAMBLE

A radio communication mishap cost Vettel the lead and meant he’d run the last 56 laps on soft tires, and Alonso and Button behind him were stuck despite having faster cars and fresher tires. Still, he held off his rivals. A late red flag though was Vettel’s saving grace, with all teams able to change. From there, a win was assured.

2011 CANADIAN GRAND PRIX, THE RARE UNFORCED ERROR

The closest thing F1 has had to an endurance race in recent years, Vettel was poised to survive the madness, red flags and rain deluge with yet another win. But a rare mistake on the final lap, when he ran wide in a corner, allowed Button to slip through and claim one of his most popular victories.

2011 INDIAN GRAND PRIX, BEGINNING OF TOTAL TRACK DOMINATION

Pole, win, fastest lap, led every lap for his first career “grand slam.” The groundwork was laid in 2011 for Vettel’s three straight triumphs at the now off the calendar Buddh International Circuit in India.

2012 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, ANOTHER GRAND SLAM AND MOVE TO TITLE THREAT

The race that swung the pendulum of that year’s World Championship. Vettel had only two wins in 2012 prior to Suzuka, but with Alonso’s first-lap retirement and Vettel’s domination, the German closed down 25 points.

2012 BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, THE COMEBACK POST FIRST-LAP SPIN

Spin at the first lap? No problem. Vettel rebounded to sixth, in the wet, to secure a dramatic third straight championship.

2013 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, MULTI 21

It was arguably one of the stories of the 2013 racing season – Vettel’s blatant disregard of team orders to pass Webber, take the win, and give birth to the “Multi 21” phrase uttered by Webber post-race. It was the single psychological knockout that pushed Webber over the edge, and established Vettel – smiling on the outside – as a take-no-prisoners assassin with his helmet on.

2013 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, THE WIN THAT HELD A RECORD STREAK TOGETHER

With poles, rapid first lap getaways and flag-to-flag domination, most of Vettel’s nine wins in a row in the second half of 2013 were never in doubt. Suzuka wasn’t that way. Webber took the pole and he, Vettel and Romain Grosjean were all in victory contention depending on pit strategies. Vettel seized the advantage that way in a comeback drive for his fifth win in a row at the time. Turns out he needed it to make for his record string of consecutive victories, in what was one of his best wins at Red Bull.

Although his 2014 season lacked wins, it marked the closing of a chapter of success that saw Vettel and Red Bull go on quite a tear. Can either driver or team recapture the magic apart they achieved together? Only time will tell.