Sebastian Vettel had been under considerable flak prior to winning the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, and credit to his Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto for believing that not only would his driver bounce back but also confident we have yet to see the best of the four-time Formula 1 World Champion.
After qualifying at Marina Bay, Vettel was third with his teammate Charles Leclerc on pole. Interviewing Binotto after the night session, Sky F1’s Martin Brundle asked of the German driver: “Maybe his best time is behind him…”
Without a blink, and not primed, Binotto replied, “The best is still in front of him. He has it in his own hands, how much he wants it.”
And added, “I think Seb is in a good shape. I’m pretty sure he can fight back here in Singapore, he’s focused, hopes for a good result important to me: that the spirit fits, with which he tackles the races. ”
Prophetic words indeed as 24-hours later Vettel did the business for his boss whose immense faith in the 32-year-old was rewarded despite the young rising force in the Red garage.
The sooner Vettel realises he will have to outsmart his very fast teammate Charles Leclerc the better for him. If he has not already, he might be wise to take a leaf out of Alain Prost’s tactics against Ayrton Senna.
The Professor realised that he was not able to match his McLaren teammate lap-for-lap and shifted to the long-slow game, allowing his teammate to strut his stuff when it did not really matter and then soak up the points when it did. It worked.
On Sunday, Singapore victory fell into Vettel’s lap as his side of the pitwall fluked into a strategy that even surprised them, the #5 Ferrari was not supposed to emerge ahead of Leclerc, but it did.
Full credit to Vettel who delivered a blistering set of in-and-out pitstop laps to find 1.5 seconds on top of the two seconds the computers figured was the maximum he could make up. That second and a half were the difference between tucking in behind his teammate and taking the lead which he did and went on to win the race.
Leclerc had been faster all weekend, Vettel needed to be better for a three or four-lap spell when it really, really mattered (which happened to be lap 18-19-20 of the race) in Singapore to bag maximum points. And therein lies the solution to beat Leclerc, brain rather than brown.
It will be a big ask for Vettel to accept he is no longer the guy with the killer pace that obliterated his teammates, as he did in his early Red Bull days.
Although he got a wake-up call when Daniel Ricciardo stepped up to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull. After the humbling experienced he moved to Ferrari where he found the comfort zone of Kimi Raikkonen in the sunset stage of his career.
Now the pressure is back on, Vettel has Leclerc to contend with. Hungrier, faster and in a rush – the kid is not going to go away any time soon, in fact the 21-year-old will only get better and Seb might or might not.
Binotto’s unyielding faith is good news for the driver because it is hard to fathom why Vettel would want to quit any time soon, he is still relatively young and has at least five to eight years in him for the top flight. There is clearly no animosity or reason to leave the best team in the sport.
All athletes with long careers at the summit of their chosen sport have peaks and troughs in performance, some longer than others and this is the most likely case with Vettel as he chases a fifth title in the future.
In closing, if he really wants to know-how to beat a faster teammate to the title – and it has happened more often than we imagine – he need only delve into the Ferrari archives and look up 1979, the year Jody Scheckter contained Gilles Villeneuve.
Big Question: Are Seb’s best years in F1 still ahead?