There, I said it. It's not even official yet. It's not even being accepted by his rivals. Forget the circumstances of his title win last year and even forget his supposed chinks in his armour. Don't even bother arguing about how some of his victories this season have been through luck. There can be no doubt that Sebastian Vettel is the story of 2011, he's seemingly untouchable and he's most definitely a worthy World Champion.
A crushing qualifying and race performance at a track in Monza, where traditionally the Red Bull has been third best on a good weekend, underlined the best in Vettel and also justified to the critics that his worst has pretty much been eradicated. It was just an average Vettel weekend again that has become all too familiar in 2011. The boy is bulletproof now.
Qualifying was simply vintage Vettel. Leave everybody guessing until the final lap has been set in stone and the hearts in the rest of the pitlane have sunk. His 25th Career pole was simply outstanding, almost half a second up on nearest rival Lewis Hamilton, who had looked determined during Free Practice, and yet Vettel kept a level head on his shoulders in the aftermath in front of the media horde.
"I think we have to go step by step. This weekend we know it is not easy for us, but so far it has been excellent, the main task is coming tomorrow." It has been the same story at every other race weekend so far. A step by step approach, not thinking about the bigger picture in the title race and just focusing on perfecting the finer details, has helped Sebastian achieve 10 poles and 8 wins in 13 races. His most recent effort demonstrates how improved he is from 2010. His ability to pull out a margin when he needs to is currently unrivalled, but add some good starts in and a ballsy overtake around the outside (and some more!) of Alonso at Curve Grande and it seems as if he is impossible to beat.
And yet his psychological approach in front of the public eye is outstanding. All year he has aimed to take maximum points but he is never looking at the table, never taking anything for granted. 2010 taught him this valuable lesson with some high-profile failures in Bahrain, Australia and Korea which almost cost him dear. He knows the best way to win Championships is to be consistently fast and taking points. In stark contrast, his rivals have been concerned with the ever-increasing Championship gap between first and second and have just been praying for a slip up. As a result, the pressure has had a reverse effect. The four drivers below Vettel have consistently been taking points off of each other and are in their own Championship battle, as Mark Webber has already stated: "I think we're all battling for second now."
|An accomplished defensive drive vs Hamilton was an early highlight|
As for Vettel's handling of pressure this season, you can easily look at the final lap in Montreal and in the first stint at the Nurburgring and say "well, he can't cope with intense pressure." But looking at just the mistakes is easy to do. Take the Spanish Grand Prix, he proved he could definitely hold his nerve. A miscalulated pitstop put Sebastian in traffic but within his outlap he had passed all three cars (who were no slouches in the form of Massa, Button and Rosberg) with ease. The critic would claim that the fresher tyres were the catalyst for Vettel's awesome lap but on a track where overtaking was traditionally non-existent it was a sterling performance. And then later on in the race he absorbed the onslaught of a very racy McLaren of Hamilton to take a hard-fought but well-earned victory. One week later, he took advantage of the circumstance of a red flag to win but prior to the halting of procedings Vettel held firm the widest Red Bull he could possibly create in the streets of Monaco to hold off a faster Alonso and Button for a long period.
It wasn't just at Monaco where Vettel silenced more of his critics. Undercut-influenced overtakes were the cause of most of his early season overtakes but as the season has progressed he has had to produce the goods on the racetrack. Either way, it shows another weakness that Vettel has clearly worked on and improved a lot - his racecraft. As mentioned previously, the race-winning pass early on against Alonso with a move nothing short of brave has just been the icing on the cake. A stunning move around the outside of Rosberg at Blanchimont at Spa was also another highlight. Sure, the battle with Massa at the Nurburgring where he needed his pitcrew to help him out a little was a slight blip but the majority of the time he rarely needs to exercise his wheel-to-wheel prowess because he is simply too far ahead.
|Vettel is a changed racer in wheel-to-wheel combat in 2011|
The 2011 Championship can be wrapped up in two weeks time at Singapore if Vettel wins and other results fall his way, and at such an early stage of the season it is simply testament to how flawless Vettel has been in the past 13 races. When his worst result has been 4th, everyone just needs to stand up and admire what they are witnessing. Everything about his season has been near-perfection. And when his only potential weaknesses in racecraft has actually been, well, not so weak at all, it would be no surprise at all if the rest of 2011 and beyond will be dominated by just one driver. I salute you, Sebastian Vettel.