Sebastian Vettel may be on a low streak right now, but the German driver defined Formula One for a certain stretch of time in the early 2010s. And today, as he turns 34, I think it’s time we revisit his frankly impressive career.
When Vettel debuted at the 2006, Turkish Grand Prix, detractors might have thought he was in for a disaster, considering he set his very first record that day: the shortest time elapsed before gaining a penalty. Vettel earned one six seconds into his F1 career for speeding on pit lane as a test driver.
But that wouldn’t be his only record. Among the others set by Vettel are:
- Most consecutive race wins (nine)
- Most race wins in a single season (13, 2013)
- Most podium finishes in a single season (17, 2011)
- Most pole positions in a season (15, 2011)
- Most laps led in a season (739, 2011)
- Most wins from pole position in one season (9, 2014)
- Youngest Grand Prix polesitter, winner, and polesitter and winner
- Youngest driver to score pole position, win the race, set the fastest lap, and lead every lap
- Youngest World Drivers’ Champion
You can argue it was the car. You can argue it was the era. You’d be one of the many people who have done that in the past. But the numbers don’t lie, and they show Vettel as one hell of a good driver in his prime. Which may not be the case anymore. But difficulties on track now shouldn't negate his successes then.
I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone was arguing against the concept of there being “the greatest driver of all time,” instead advocating for more of a “the best driver at this moment in time with the available equipment” point of view. And that’s something I can easily agree with, because it reframes our conversations about driver quality and forces them to become more refined.
With all that in mind, I’m going to offer a claim that probably isn’t shocking for anyone who’s followed F1 for any amount of time: Sebastian Vettel was the best driver of the pre-hybrid F1 era. Red Bull Racing provided him an exceptional car, yes. You could even argue that they designed that car specifically for him. But no one drove that car the way Vettel did. His teammates couldn’t touch him. And I can’t imagine any of the rest of the competition could have gotten behind the wheel of one of his machines and been anywhere near as quick.
So, here’s to you, Vettel. You’ve made one hell of an impact on our sport.