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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”

Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500