Sebastian Vettel was made to fight harder for his third world championship victory than he was for the first two. The performance advantage he enjoyed throughout much of 2011 was gone.
Vettel hit a purple patch late in the season with four wins on the trot as Red Bull finally hit the sweet spot with the RB8. Even this was fleeting as McLaren asserted themselves once more before the season ended, and the RB8 was not the quickest car on average throughout the season.
But he took the opportunity to rise from the battle for second place and seize the lead of the championship. After that he narrowly prevailed in a nailbiting championship showdown, soaking up immense pressure from Fernando Alonso over the last three rounds.
As the season began the name of the game for Vettel was getting the best he could out of a car that was no longer the pace setter. He achieved this admirably in Australia, passing Rosberg in fine style early on and reaching the podium. But he faltered in Malaysia where another podium looked possible had he taken a little more caution lapping Narain Karthikeyan (who was penalised for the contact).
|Beat team mate in qualifying||12/20|
|Beat team mate in race||11/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||865/1103|
Anxious to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of performance, Vettel experimented with an earlier exhaust layout in China. But unusually he failed to reach Q3 and in a repeat of last year found himself slipping back late in the race, ending up fifth.
It looked like a return to business as usual, 2011-style when he won round four from pole position, coolly rebuffing an attack from Kimi Raikkonen. But Red Bull were off the pace in Spain and Vettel was outdone by Webber in Monaco.
Consecutive pole positions in Canada and Britain showed the team were on the right track. But they misread the tyre situation in Canada and had to make a late pit stop, though this at least ensured he finish ahead of Alonso.
In Valencia he was in crushing form until his alternator failed. That was a major blow to Vettel’s championship hopes, sending a 32-point swing in Alonso’s favour.
He took more than half of that back with his best drive of the season in a race he didn’t win. Alonso’s elimination in the first-lap crash at the Belgian Grand Prix gave Vettel an opportunity, but he was only 12th at the restart.
Vettel found it difficult to overtake other cars on Spa’s long straights due to his car’s poor straight line speed. But his commitment through the high-speed Blanchimont allowed him to make several passes into the chicane – including on his own team mate, and he rose from the field to take a valuable second.
Questions over Vettel’s capacity for racecraft are increasingly a thing of the past thanks to races like this and his recovery drives in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
However he could have avoided penalties in Germany and Italy for errors while attacking and defending position respectively. His correct decision to cede position back to Romain Grosjean in Abu Dhabi having passed him with all four wheels off the track showed he was paying attention.
Vettel took some time to get the car to his liking in 2012 and did not always get the best out of what he had in the early part of the season. But by the final leg of the championship he was back in his comfort zone and it seemed nothing could put him off his stride.
His battling performances after being sent to the back of the grid in Abu Dhabi and knocked into a spin in Brazil demonstrated the speed, racecraft and rock-solid mental resilience of a triple-champion.
What F1 Fanatic readers said about Vettel
Vettel truly deserved his third title. He battled with a car that wasn’t to his liking at the start, and score important points.
When the car was to his liking, he dominated. When events conspired against him he put in awe inspiring drives in both Abu Dhabi and Brazil, under immense pressure. He battled for positions in many races, and dismissed the view that he wasn’t a real racer.
Vettel still has some maturing to do, with frustration clouding his judgement in a few races. The fact that he is still developing as a racing driver must be a sobering thought to his rivals.
I think many people, when comparing the Red Bull to the Ferrari, simply assume that the Red Bull is a brilliant car (Newey = genius, so RB8 = genius) and because Alonso and Domenicali said at testing that the Ferrari is awful, they assume the Ferrari is awful. Think what you want, but for sure Vettel’s performance this year is highly underrated by many.
Vettel had some stonking races this year, and proved his mettle more than once. Alonso was just up against it in worse machinery, that’s pretty much all the difference.
Notes on how the rankings are produced
The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.
Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.
A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.
Over to you
What’s your view on Sebastian Vettel’s third consecutive championship victory? Have your say in the comments.
2012 F1 season review
- The complete F1 Fanatic 2012 season review
- What F1 Fanatics thought of 2012: The year in polls
- The drivers and cars of 2012
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 article highlights of 2012
- 11 different Driver of the Weekend winners in 2012
Browse all 2012 F1 season review articles