F1 | Sebastian Vettel deserves more credit for his performances this season
The 35-year-old is finishing his career strongly as he bagged another eight points on Sunday at Suzuka.
Last weekend – at his favourite circuit in the world – Sebastian Vettel delivered an outstanding performance to make Q3 and score points on Sunday. It was the latest in a run of strong showings this year.
2022 had started terribly for the German. He missed the opening two rounds at Bahrain and Saudi Arabia because of COVID.
He returned to the cockpit at the Australian Grand Prix, but it was a nightmare weekend. A crash in FP3 meant he almost missed qualifying.
Vettel’s race then ended early the next day due to a second accident in two days. The car was clearly uncompetitive and difficult to drive, but it was the worst start imaginable.
Since that massive low, however, he has managed to show his World Champion class.
At Imola, he made Q3 for the first time in 2022 and qualified P9. Despite dropping to 13th by the chequered flag for the sprint, he drove a strong and sensible race in mixed conditions to move up five places and bag his and the team’s first points of the campaign.
The high point in the first half of the year for the four-time World Champion was in Baku at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Qualifying saw him up in P9 and only 0.4s off Russell in P5.
A small error that saw him end up down the escape road when trying to pass Ocon cost him a potential top-5 finish in the race. Nonetheless, P6 was an extremely strong result with the package he had.
But it would seem Vettel has saved his best weekend of the year for his favourite event on the calendar – the Japanese Grand Prix.
After squeezing through Q1 in P15, the German found a whopping 0.6s in Q2 with one of the laps of the season to make the cut by 0.003s.
A spin after contact with Fernando Alonso at the first start looked set to leave Vettel with no points on his final trip to Suzuka.
However, a great strategy call to immediately switch from full wets to the intermediate on the rolling start after the long delay saw him vault up the order into P6.
A wonderful last sector scrap with Alonso – who was on much fresher intermediates – on the final tour of the race saw the German hang on to that position.
It was a tyre management masterclass to have something left in his intermediates to get enough traction out of the final corner to beat Alonso the line by 0.011s.
Seb ⚔️ Fernando— Formula 1 (@F1) October 10, 2022
Look how close it was at the finish 🤯#JapaneseGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/MnNqGLxkEm
Last Sunday’s eight points and twelve overall across the double-header in Asia has moved Vettel up to P11 in the Drivers’ Championship on 32 points.
In all the key areas, Vettel is outperforming teammate Lance Stroll – and he can seal with the qualifying head-to-head next time out in Singapore.
Could he have even more?
In spite of Aston Martin’s disappointing 2022 package – especially at the start of the season – they are still in the hunt for P6 in the Constructors’ Championship as they find themselves only seven points behind Alfa Romeo now.
Vettel also has an outside chance of P10 in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of his retirement at the end of the year – he’s 16 points behind Valtteri Bottas with four races to go.
The reality is some points have been left on the table in both championships.
As well as Vettel’s mistake in Baku that cost him a potential two points, there has been other errors or misfortune as well.
At the Miami Grand Prix, Vettel was hit by Mick Schumacher as they had a hard battle for P9 in the closing stages.
An early switch to intermediates at Monaco did not work out – although Vettel managed to salvage a point. He probably missed out on an extra position to Bottas that day.
If Vettel had been allowed passed Stroll earlier in Hungary, he could have got Ocon for P9.
A proactive instead of reactive strategy at Spa would have seen them finish ahead of the Frenchman once again. Vettel had been ahead in the battle for P7 before the final stops.
Singapore saw both drivers lose out to Daniel Ricciardo when everyone switched from inters to dries. Before it, they were 13s and 6s clear of the Australian respectively.
While the timing of the Safety Car was extremely unfortunate for both Vettel and Stroll, George Russell had shown how long it was taking to get heat in slick tyres as the track took an eternity to dry. A possible top-6 with both cars slipped away.
All in all, Vettel could easily be closer to 50 points and Bottas in the championship. Finishing in the top half of the Drivers' Championship in his final year is an outside shot right now.
Finishing with a flourish
Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, Vettel announced he would be calling time on his career at the conclusion of the current campaign.
In spite of having an extremely uncompetitive package compared to the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes in particular, he has managed to show his star qualities this year.
The four-time World Champion has scored points in eight out of his sixteen appearances this year – four of those have come since the retirement announcement.
To score a point or points in half of his starts is a hugely impressive feat considering the AMR22 has been regularly between the 8th and 10th fastest team at events this year.
Even in not so great cars, World Champions can make a difference that separate the good and the great.
As Lance Stroll failed to progress from Q1 at Suzuka and never looked in the hunt for points last weekend, Vettel was simply sublime in qualifying and the race.
To be sitting P11 in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of the likes of Ricciardo and Magnussen is a testament to the job he’s doing.
A lot of people might feel he is retiring too soon, but he’ll be quitting the sport while still driving at a high level.
Class is permanent.
A fitting end to his last race at Suzuka 🇯🇵— Formula 1 (@F1) October 9, 2022
Seb was your #F1DriverOfTheDay at Suzuka 🙌#JapaneseGP @salesforce pic.twitter.com/sEVVf5hW4o