Vettel’s defining year
Pressure will be massive on the four-time champion to reaffirm himself at the very top of the sport
It’s almost an understatement to say that the coming season will be paramount for Sebastian Vettel. Though the Ferrari team have to share a fair portion of the blame for their flaws in development and race strategy, the German has generally been burdened with the vast majority of responsibilities for last year's defeat. His huge setbacks in France and Germany and an utter blackout between Monza and Austin marred a campaign where Vettel achieved remarkable triumphs in races such as Bahrain and Silverstone.
The shakeup at the helm of the Scuderia marked by Binotto’s appointment will probably mean renewed confidence in Vettel, whose relationship with departing Team Principal Arrivabene had deteriorated; nevertheless, pressure will be exerted also from inside the team, with new addition Charles Leclerc eager to excel in his top-team debut, plus a host of talents from a revamped Academy willing to climb up the ranks in the next few years, Mick Schumacher being the brightest.
All of this seems to suggest that time is brief for Vettel’s career at Maranello, but such champion has got what it takes to make it count. Crucial will be to maintain maximum focus, something that has been lacking among the excessive lapses of last season; however, there is one particular aspect that marked the German’s inferiority to Lewis Hamilton last year, getting him bogged down in the team’s strategical mistakes, which is autonomy. While Hamilton has, at least since 2016, been able to make swift decisions independently in case he found his team in the wrong (to the point of extreme evasive action), Vettel has always looked far too trustful (as positive as it can be) towards a strategy staff that has often let him down.
Incidentally, strategical autonomy was an excellent feature of Fernando Alonso, who seemed always capable to work out remarkable strategies all by himself even in the course of the race. If the Spaniard was, in this aspect, in a league of his own, Vettel needs to work hard on himself to develop this kind of sensibility to at least the same level as his British rival, so to narrow down the errors.
Despite the enormous pressure that will weigh on him in a likely new chase for the title, Vettel has to show he is up to the job, which would mean joining the legends once and for all