The Inside Line #73: A harsh reality

TILI Logo PrintSure, he was winning races, but just how fast could Sebastian Vettel go if given the chance? This time 12 months ago, at the Singapore Grand Prix, we found out. After Daniel Ricciardo [1] had stuffed his Toro Rosso into the wall and prompted the mandatory safety car around the Singapore streets, Vettel’s 13-second advantage was eroded in an instant. What he did immediately afterwards caused a collective sharp intake of breath from everyone in the paddock not wearing Red Bull gear. When the race resumed, Vettel was an average of two seconds per lap – think about that – faster than anyone else. His winning margin – 32.6 seconds – was the largest in Formula One for eight years. It was a mesmerising, terrifyingly good performance. I wasn’t alone that night in wondering how anyone else would or could win a race for the foreseeable future.

The rest of 2013 was a lot like Singapore for Vettel after he won the next six Grands Prix to finish the season on a nine-race run, but the change of calendar to 2014 stopped that streak cold. As F1 returns to the Asian city-state this weekend, he’s been on the podium just twice all season and has been, quite frankly, thrashed by his new teammate [2]. After the last race in Italy, where Vettel was dismissed by Ricciardo for fifth in the closing laps, one respected website even floated the idea that the German’s race strategy – which saw him pit earlier than any other driver and therefore become vulnerable to an attack while on fading rubber late in the race – was a deliberate strategy ploy to maximise Ricciardo’s flickering championship chances [3]. While whatever happened and for what reasons at Monza remains unclear, what we do know is that Vettel will want to turn the page on 2014 as soon as possible. A year after arguably the most dominant display of his career in Singapore, he’s become little more than a bit-part player in a drama starring the two Mercedes drivers, the dogged (and perhaps restless) Fernando Alonso [4], and his toothy teammate. [5]

A comprehensive Singapore GP preview is the focus of this week’s episode of ‘The Inside Line’, while we also look at Luca di Montezemolo’s departure from Ferrari and the future of the Italian GP.

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday September 17, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday September 18. And if you’re watching in another of our 30+ broadcast countries, thanks – and check your local guides.

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[1] He’s not done too much wrong since, has he?

[2] A chat I had with a highly-respected sports editor last week veered off into discussion about Ricciardo’s performances relative to Vettel, and whether they paint Mark Webber’s career against Vettel in a new light. A very interesting topic. One that I will visit at some stage.

[3] I like James’ work, but I don’t buy it. I have too many memories of too many conversations with Webber from 2010 to believe that RBR would do anything other than, ahem, support Vettel 100 per cent of the time.

[4] Fernando is just the best, isn’t he?

[5] I didn’t see this coming. Neither did most people. If you’re an Australian press person with limited knowledge of F1 and have a platform from which to shout loudly, you didn’t either. Claiming the contrary doesn’t make you a visionary or an expert, just a wanker.

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