2011 F1 driver rankings no.1: Sebastian Vettel

2011 F1 season review

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Vettel won his tenth race of the year in Korea

Last year Sebastian Vettel won his first world championship in spite of occasional shortcomings in his driving and the reliability of his car.

This year the pair complemented each other perfectly: fast, near-faultless and, in Vettel’s case, utterly fearless.

At one point he remarked that the performance advantage he enjoyed with the RB7 this year was not as great as he’d had with the RB6 last year. Given that he won this year’s championship by 122 points and last year’s by just four, that may seem a surprising claim.

But looking at the relative performance of the cars it does appear to have been the case, certainly in the first half of this year.

Having won as he pleased in the first two races, he lost to Hamilton in China, running a weak strategy and struggling with KERS and radio problems.

Beat team mate in qualifying16/19
Beat team mate in race15/17
Races finished18/19
Laps spent ahead of team mate918/1030

In Monaco and Spain he won after enduring massive pressure from the drivers behind him. He nearly won again in similar circumstances in Canada only to run wide on the final lap, allowing Jenson Button through to win.

Having made several more high-profile errors last year, this was about as bad as it got for Vettel in 2011 – and he still finished second. When he did crash the car it was almost always during practice – as happened in Turkey, Canada, Japan and Abu Dhabi – and it rarely hindered his performance.

In the run-up to the summer break Vettel’s win rate slowed – he won just one of the five races as McLaren and Ferrari seemed to be in the ascendancy. He never looked comfortable in his home race at the Nurburgring, where the team tried a new suspension configuration. It was the only race he finished all year outside of the top three.

He remained unhappy with the car in practice for the next race in Hungary and pressed the team to make wholesale changes overnight. These were done, and he duly put the car on pole position.

He finished the race second, and on the slowing-down lap, with the summer break ahead of him, he gave an insight into his uncompromising thirst for victory as he brushed off the consoling words of his race engineer.

“Just think how Hamilton and Webber must be feeling,” said Guillaume Rocquelin, “You finished ahead of Alonso, Hamilton and Webber today. It was a good day.”

“But I want to win,” replied Vettel.

Vettel passed Alonso to win in Monza

Vettel returned from the summer break stronger than ever. Any hopes his rivals entertained that Red Bull might struggle at the high-speed Spa and Monza tracks were dispelled as he won both from pole position.

In these races he also gave the lie to doubts about his overtaking prowess. He danced around the outside of Nico Rosberg at Blanchimont at Spa. When Alonso forced him onto the grass at the outside of Monza’s flat-out Curva Grance, Vettel didn’t flinch, took the lead and was on his way to another victory.

After that he won as he pleased in Singapore and played the percentages in Japan to seal the title with four races still to go.

This was one of the earliest ever championship conclusions, despite the changes made to the points system. He also broke the record for most pole positions in a season and won more races than anyone bar Michael Schumacher in 2004.

But if the regularity of his success became monotonous, the often slender margin between him and his rivals in qualifying showed that this wasn’t just the case of a driver enjoying a significant performance advantage in his car.

The scale of his superiority over Mark Webber, who almost ended the season winless, rammed that message home.

It was by any measure a staggering performance. Vettel was a considerable force when he won his first championship but he raised his game in almost every area in 2011. The prospect of this man driving an Adrian Newey-designed car for the foreseeable future is a grim thought for his rivals.

Who do you think was the best F1 driver of 2011? Cast your vote here

F1 Fanatics on Sebastian Vettel

The finger held aloft as Vettel wins in Turkey

He won the world championship, making the best use of his machinery all season.

Sebastian showed that his racecraft has improved significantly (like passing Alonso at Curva Grande and Rosberg at Blanchimont), and he is capable of taking wins under huge pressure as well (Monaco and Spain). Asserted himself as one of the best qualifiers in the history of the sport. And still only 24.
David A

Just in a class of his own. You only have to look at the difference between him and Webber (who is no slouch) over qualifying and the race. It proves to me that it is not just the car that is quick.

What impresses me the most about Vettel is his qualifying speed and how he just turns it on when he needs to. Also the first few laps of the race he manages to pull out a gap of over a second normally which is just crazy.

I started the year in utter contempt for Seb who I thought did not deserve to be a world champion.

But as each qualifying session went by contempt turned into disbelief and disbelief into awe as each time he pulled something out of the bag to stand on pole and on the winners spot. Seb takes first place for me.

The sheer numbers of his season could be enough to put him in the number one spot. But to me, what really made him “the” driver this year is the way he dominated Webber.

It is easy to say he was just doing his job with in the fastest car of the field, but the way his team mate looked ordinary in the same machinery tells me that Vettel really made the difference and maximized the potential of the car. His ability to learn from his mistakes is simply incredible, and he can only get better.

Best driver all year by a mile. He did it all and dispelled all the aspects of his driving that some people were suspect about.

His drive in Barcelona was absolutely top drawer, making critical overtakes after his pit stop and holding back Hamilton in a faster McLaren for several laps. Monaco was another lesson in calm driving to hold off faster cars, and his qualifying laps have been extra special. A real privilege to watch this year.
Dan Thorn

Vettel probably made the Red Bull look faster than it actually was this year. I didn’t even know that was possible!

The 15 poles and amazing composure in stressful situations has put Sebastian as a force to be reckoned with. With the exception of his last lap in Canada, and off day at the Nurburgring, Sebastian was flawless all season.

He was dominant, getting everything out of both himself and the car at almost every opportunity. Peerless in qualifying and a racecraft that has, in my opinion, become one of the top three with Alonso and Hamilton. A deserved second world championship, trouncing a tough team mate in Mark Webber to boot.
Colossal Squid

Sebastian Vettel 2011 form guide

2011 F1 season review

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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45 comments on “2011 F1 driver rankings no.1: Sebastian Vettel”

  1. definitely the #1.. a season as dominant as Schumacher’s in the early 00’s.
    only problem is seeing if he can remain confident in 2012 when Mclaren and Ferrari fight back! only time will tell

    1. It’s good that you’re confident Ferrari and McLaren will fight back! I’m hopeful, but certainly not confident, unfortunately.

      1. Alonso will finally bring his 6 tenths to the Ferrari in 2012.

    2. Actually, I am putting my hopes on both McLaren and Ferrari being as fast as the Red Bull next year @aus_steve, and the possible problem being, if they fail to do so!

  2. If it wasn’t for the RB7 he wouldn’t have done that well.

    1. Ohh good lord, not again!! But I should not be surprised by barrage of such comments.

    2. he’d have won the title in the mclaren still

        1. no i was being serious

          1. Vettel probably would have ended up with more points than Button or Hamilton scored in the Mclaren, as I believe neither maxed out the potential of the car, but I doubt he would of beaten Button or Hamilton( without all the silly mistakes and team errors ) with them swapping into his RB7.

    3. Did you even read this article? Wait, why am I wasting my time typing this…

    4. You do realise that in F1 the driver who wins the drivers championship is actually a combination of driver and car?

      Sebastian could only drive the car that Red Bull and Adrian Newey gave him and he did so brilliantly, by qualifying on pole and then going on to win the race and on the few occasions he didn’t win the race he mostly finished on the podium.

      I feel that he still has a fair bit of room for improvement when it comes to close racing, yes he did pull of a few great overtakes this season and he has on occasion soaked up pressure (sorry but Monaco REALLY doesn’t count, stopping the race and changing tyres relieved a huge amount of pressure and turned what would no doubt have been a thrilling end to the race into a rather pedestrian podium). I am not saying he can’t do close racing, its just that his frequent leading out of the first corner and leading the rest of the race haven’t given him the chance to prove his obviously growing talent.

    5. OK, lets penalize him 25% of his points to balance oyt the RB7 advantage. OMG, he still won comfortably!

      1. Good point. People like @galzo33 simply can’t look at anything from an objective point of view.

    6. Indeed @galzo33, I doubt he would have beaten the other guys on foot!

      But the fact he had a fast car does not make this the season he enjoyed. Vettel really got the maximum out of that car and did it in great style.

  3. Keith- is that radio conversation from Hungary on the DVD?

  4. If not for Vettel who else did a better job this year; then Button and Alonso come to mind. But were they on the same page with Vettel, unfortunately No. Good job this year, but he should be wary of what Alonso said about the third world championship. Unless he beats Alonso to that, he can’t be an equal in front of him, maybe better.

  5. What got on my wick, was how he made it look sooooo eeeaasy… The sign of a great driver i guess!

  6. Congratulations to Sebastian. Aside from the select few who don’t quite understand that a WDC is attained through a perfect relationship between team, driver, and car, most of us agree that he has been the dominant force this year and probably would have taken a McLaren to the same position, such was the confidence and skill he displayed this year. As long as he remains with Red Bull his achievements will forever be undermined by those who refuse to believe just how good he is.

  7. Again I can’t fault your comments Keith.

    Vettel’s performance all year has been stunning from the word go. He not only deserves the title but status of most improved driver this season.

  8. Seb, you’ve been absolutely fantastic this season! I daresay, what we have just witness, is one of the all-time greats of Formula One.

  9. I can’t deny

  10. He was just untouchable this season.

  11. I agree with the choice. Great year for Vettel. He was confident and not only got everything out of the car, but sometime he got even more than the car was capable to do.

    His laps on qualifying were always amazing, I almost stop breathing during the lap in Monaco, and in Monza he was super.

    1. @Celeste I’ve watched his pole-lap in Monaco several times now as it’s simply mind-blowing. It’s especially impressive to watch the scenery as he drives through Tabac and into the swimming pool complex. It looks so dangerously quick! It’s scary to think that the red flag probably prevented us from seeing even quicker times…

  12. His domination of the season was near absolute in my eyes, and that’s not even considering the car. As much as I prefer several other drivers, you simply can’t deny this boy grew into a man last year and is now well on his way to growing into a legend of the sport.

  13. This year’s title was more of Vettel than Newey car than the previous one and it needs to be emphasized. Seb might be one of the best qualifiers ever, he’s also constantly improving his race craft. What impressed me the most was his maturity, which as we saw in case of Hamilton, is not always the case with young and very fast drivers. Still it’s yet to be seen how our reigning champion copes with sub-par car. Is he capable of delivering performances beyond the capabilities of the machinery like the other double world champion Alonso? IMO this is the quality which separates the greats from those who just had privilege of driving great cars.

  14. He finished the race second, and on the slowing-down lap, with the summer break ahead of him, he gave an insight into his uncompromising thirst for victory as he brushed off the consoling words of his race engineer.

    “Just think how Hamilton and Webber must be feeling,” said Guillaume Rocquelin, “You finished ahead of Alonso, Hamilton and Webber today. It was a good day.”

    “But I want to win,” replied Vettel.

    Is it just me that thinks Seb feels insecure for some reason? He’s always trying to prove something and often makes remarks about what he’s done or achieved. I think he should probably chill a bit, because he’s always going to have people that doubt him. He can’t make everyone like him, but sometimes it’s as if that’s what he’s trying to do.

    1. Hmm. I have to say I couldn’t disagree with this comment more! To me, he seems the opposite of what an insecure driver is like. For example, when he makes a mistake, he doesn’t get defensive or make excuses; he acknowledges the mistake and then sets about trying to eliminate the possibility he’ll make that same mistake again. When asked about his achievements, he’ll certainly say he’s extremely proud of them — but he acknowledges that it’s only a matter of time before someone comes along and breaks whatever new record he has set.

      As for what you’ve quoted above, I’d say it’s evidence of his perfectionism, not of insecurity.

      1. I agree with @aka_robyn He is always looking to get the best out of the car, and to win. I don´t remember who said: “show me a good loser and I´ll show you a loser” .

        This kind of quotes tellme how special must be working with him. Know that he is always giving his best and that he will do anything for the work you are putting in the car be acknowledge as the best.

        Really Vettel is showing that he is not only a good driver but a great example as a sportman and leader.

    2. He had 11 wins in the season. Having that and then making a comment like that… I don’t know whether to read it as an innocent comment, a sign of fighting spirit, or parhaps a slightly spoilt attitude. It must always be frustrating for a driver when they don’t win, but they have to accept they can’t win every race, and complaiing about finishing 2nd seems a bit silly.

      1. He is not someone who is going to be content with second if he thought first had been remotely possible. He has made statements like this on many occasions:

        We put pressure on ourselves, as we want to perform. We feel when we did not get everything out of the car or ourselves, then we are not happy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean we would be unhappy with a fifth. It is more about how things come together. If a fifth is what you deserve, then you can be happy to have reached that.

    3. I think it’s true that looking for perfection, making jokes can be symptons of insecurity. However, I think that if there’s some insecurity on Vettel’s side, it is probably more towards people – wanting to be liked -then about his driving.
      *session over*

      1. @verstappen @aka-Robyn @Celeste @Matt90

        if there’s some insecurity on Vettel’s side, it is probably more towards people – wanting to be liked -then about his driving.

        Yes, thank you. It was late and I’m not particularly good with words, but that’s what I was getting at.

        Having said that, it feels like he still wants to prove something. Like how he said after Japan to Jenson something along the lines of “Ask Fernando, he knows F1 cars can drive with two wheels on the grass.” I know he’d just won the championship and emotions were running high, but that remark quite annoyed me. I’m not going to begrudge him over it because there will occasionally be things F1 drivers say that don’t come out right, and that’s even more likely to happen with drivers that don’t have English as their first language.

        Robyn, I meant more to do with his fanbase. He made an effort to go on Top Gear to win over some new fans in the UK with his charming sense of humour and big smile, he often makes little remarks to prove a point not just to the person he’s talking to, but anyone who is listening. And I never said it was a bad thing so please don’t take offence.


        Having that and then making a comment like that… I don’t know whether to read it as an innocent comment, a sign of fighting spirit, or parhaps a slightly spoilt attitude.

        That’s how I felt in Japan when he was getting frustrated at a backmarker. Do we read it as he expects to win and believes anything less than dominating makes him seem vulnerable? Or is he really just that competitive? It’s good to be competitive, but sometimes I think he should chill out a little.

        1. That was to @aka_Robyn, by the way! :P

  15. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    16th December 2011, 17:16

    “I want to win”, that sums up why he smashed them all this year. You can say “but he won 11 times, so he wants more? OF COURSE. I don’t think Fangio would have said “enough, I have 3 championships”… that’s why he got FIVE, and Schum is racing because somewhere inside he trully BELIEVES he can get an eighth one! So when people criticize Vettel for wanting more it’s just nonsense and unjustified hate or envy

    1. I completely agree. The truly great of any sport never get tired of winning.
      They are always hungry for more, relentlessly pushing themselves to be the best, regardless of their chances or how much they have achieved already. They constantly look to tomorrow. It’s why watching Schumacher, Senna and the numerous other greats in their prime was such a joy, and why we watch Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel any Sunday. These guys are special.

  16. I’ve noticed that Vettel is a very early braker. He brakes quite early and really throws the front end of the car into the corner so that he is set up for a really clean exit. This is the way most drivers drive in qualifying, but it leaves you vulnerable in the race as many overtakes happen under braking now a days (very much less so with DRS). I think what Vettel figured out is that braking early is a good idea, especially in qualifying, it works well with the new tires, and, that with DRS, he has a chance to overtake after a corner exit rather than force a move under braking. I wonder how many overtakes Vettel made before mid-corner this season?

    You can contrast this style with Hamilton who is famous for his late braking/trail braking technique. Obviously, that hasn’t worked out for him this season, albeit it has produced some quick qualifying laps. But, again, contrasted to Jenson who doesn’t trail brake and is extremely tidy on corner entry, it hasn’t been great for Lewis.

    There was a great article by Peter Windsor a while back where he talks about how Ferrari have “slowed down” the steering on Alonso’s car, as well, to try to get him to have smoother corner entries to save the Pirellis. Interesting stuff.

  17. The easiest driver to rank for me this season has been Vettel as he has just been superb this year.

    After winning his first title in 2010 he has cut out the errors that made last years championship such close run thing and gone onto another level. If Hamilton had managed something like this he would probably would have had another title to his name.

    After a series of top laps in qualifying sessions throughout the season, in most races he just seemed to manage his pace and put in the quick laps when needed.

    During the opening laps he usually pulled out a couple of second lead before DRS was enabled and then settled into a good rhythm. Whereas Webber’s season was blighted by not getting on terms with the new tyres Vettel seemed to be able to pit when he wanted a lot of the time.

    After Vettel’s success this season I have finally stopped expecting to hear the Italian national anthem after the German national anthem due to all the Schumacher Ferrari wins, however I suppose next I will start to expect to hear the Austrian national anthem after the German national anthem.

    If Vettel is to dominate F1 for years to come I hope he stops that finger celebration as although he seems a genuinely top bloke that celebration and some of the stuff he comes out with on team radio after securing the pole or a win can be irritating.

    1. maybe it is irritating but you can’t argue that he’s not savouring every minute of his success. F1 can change quickly and he may not win another race (like kubica, massa)
      although it must be nice to be 24, multi millionaire, back-to-back champ and to have career stats most F1 drivers would kill for AT THE END of their careers

  18. Mamma mia Seb! What a season you had!
    He clearly was number one all season, the Nurburgring stands out in my memory as a blip in performance but apart from that he was absolutely faultless.

  19. “Just think how Hamilton and Webber must be feeling,” said Guillaume Rocquelin, “You finished ahead of Alonso, Hamilton and Webber today. It was a good day.”

    “But I want to win,” replied Vettel.

    Firstly,You dont really know whata person is REALLY thinking

    Secondly, Seb you cant win them all;You win some you lose some regardless of how dominant you are.

  20. Formidable performance from start to end. Absolutely everything about him improved from 2010 but he immediately struck me as a contented individual in Melbourne with a quiet but solid point to prove.

    His qualifying runs left little guesswork as to who would get pole, often teasing with average Q1 and Q2 results but knowing he can and will deliver in Q3. Getting on top of the tyres so quickly to be able to do that and have the confidence in himself and his rubber shows the kind of maturity that will serve him well throughout his career.

    His ability to negate a chasing competitors DRS within 2 laps always impressed me, equally so his ability to be able to hold back to keep the car in check but turn on his reserve tank when required. I almost feel foolish for believing anyone else had a chance at those times.

    An audacious over-take in Italy which screamed of a person feeling hurt that THEIR position on the track had been taken from them. It showed his all important human side throughout an otherwise exacting season.

    I feel privileged to have witnessed such a fantastic drive.

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