The Inside Line #89: Back to the business end

TILI Logo PrintThere’s a lot to look forward to this Formula One season – can Lewis Hamilton make it back-to-back titles, can Daniel Ricciardo consolidate on his stunning 2014 season, how long will Fernando Alonso grow his beard to annoy Ron Dennis [1] – but one of the narratives I can’t wait to follow is how Sebastian Vettel gets on at Ferrari. And whether last year’s meek title defence – the first time a reigning champion hadn’t won a single race the following year since Jacques Villeneuve in 1998 – was an anomaly or a sign of things to come.

The common and somewhat lazy view being peddled by some of the sport’s ‘experts’ [2] in Australia was that Vettel was a spoiled brat who, not having a car to his liking, sulked his way through the season and was shown up by Ricciardo, which diluted what he’d done in the previous four years. Never mind that Vettel had won the last nine – yes, the last nine – races of 2013; by the middle of ’14, he was apparently a downhill skier, nothing unless he has the best car in the field, and no match for an Aussie who hadn’t done anything before last year. What that said about Mark Webber’s career alongside Vettel was the question intimated but never answered, but I digress … [3]

Vettel’s move to Ferrari and the negotiating of his own contract at the Scuderia was for reasons as much personal as professional; in a year where he became a father not long after his team boss did [4] and saw the life of his friend and mentor Michael Schumacher take a tragic turn, Vettel looked like a person with a lot on his mind for much of last year. A new colour, a new team, a chance to dust off the Italian he’d largely disregarded after leaving Toro Rosso in 2008 and the opportunity to carve out his own legacy at another team seems to have invigorated him this year if pre-season testing is any guide, but he’s combining that enthusiasm with the pragmatism that comes with being 27 and someone who has been in and around the sport for, incredibly, nine seasons.

The bar has been set pretty low for Ferrari this year – new team boss Maurizio Arrivabene says two wins this season would be acceptable, which is smart given how bad 2014 was – but I rather fancy Vettel for more than that. If Ferrari’s pre-season pace is legitimate – Ricciardo and Felipe Massa think it is – then Vettel will be right there. OK, maybe not to challenge the Mercedes’ works team unless they drop the ball on occasion, but as Ricciardo showed last year, being there to strike when the opportunity arises can lead to a year that looks good on paper and can enhance a reputation. Or for Vettel, to restore it to where it deserves to be for a driver with such a glittering CV of success.

A look at Vettel’s early days at Maranello features on Episode 89 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we also look at how Mercedes plans to tackle its title defences (plural) in 2015, and review the second pre-season test from Barcelona. After the test wrapped up on Sunday, there’s now just four days of running before it all gets very real in FP1 in Melbourne in two weekends’ time. The clock is ticking, faster for some teams than others … [5]

You can watch ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 (9pm AEST Wednesday) and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

– — —- —-

[1] As long as he can, I hope.

[2] There’s quite a few of them that will leave breathlessly-written AFL training updates to the wires for a week in March to write and talk complete F1 nonsense. Not sure whether it’s more sad or funny.

[3] That’s a tough one to answer in one footnote. A subject for another time. Rightly or wrongly, it’s amazing how someone can fade so quickly from the consciousness of the general sports fan though, isn’t it?

[4] I provide the dots, you can connect them.

[5] It’s never a great sign when one team that makes up the smallest grid to start a season since (gulp) 1967 hasn’t even tested its new car, is it?


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