Monday, 9 May 2011

Vettel Showing No Signs Of Pressure

Seven pole positions from the last eight races- there is no doubt as to Sebastian Vettel’s position as King of qualifying.

The current qualifying procedure of two knockout sessions followed by a top ten position shootout for pole position is designed to create drama and excitement for viewers. Drivers through to the shootout have only ten minutes to string together the perfect lap putting them under intense pressure. However, while others have struggled for example Mark Webber in China, Vettel has remained impressively relaxed and put in top laps when it has mattered to have qualified on pole position in all four races of the season so far.

The young German is only 23 and has already amassed a total of 19 pole positions since making his debut in the 2007 United States Grand Prix and achieving his first pole position a year later at a wet Monza. In doing so he secured his team Toro Rosso’s first ever pole position as well as the individual honour of becoming the youngest ever polesitter. As little as we are through the career of Sebastian Vettel, it is clear that Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 pole positions is under serious threat.

For this year Pirelli were asked to provide tyres with quick degradation- another FIA method of creating drama and excitement for their most valuable stakeholders- the viewers. Just like with his response to the dramatic qualifying sessions, Vettel remains unflappable to the additional pressures. In Turkey, Vettel built up enough of a gap to cover of a potential undercut from Fernando Alonso and his team-mate Mark Webber on a new set of tyres. Maybe if he did not have the speed advantage he currently possesses, he may be more worried about the potential strategies of opponents as Lewis Hamilton was clearly concerned with at the weekend- with regards to his radio conversations with his race engineer.

There are three races which have stood in my memory with regards to how good Vettel is in dealing with pressure situations.

Firstly his first grand prix at the USA grand prix in 2007. For the race weekend Vettel replaced the injured Robert Kubica following his high speed crash at the Canadian Grand Prix. Vettel had shown great promise in Friday test sessions, finishing top of the timesheets on various occasions but the pressures involved on race day are completely different. Vettel qualified seventh before producing a solid drive to finish eighth, in doing so becoming the youngest pointscorer ever in Formula 1.

The second race I have selected is the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. Having become the youngest polesitter, Vettel knew that he had a great opportunity to become the youngest racewinner. There was also huge pressure from his team who were looking for their first ever win- even more so when team-mate Sebastien Bourdais starting 4th, stalled on the grid. Vettel produced an excellent drive in tricky wet condition to win the race by more than 12 seconds ahead of 2nd placed Heikki Kovalainen in his McLaren.

However the best race which demonstrates the cool nature of Vettel is the Brazilian Grand Prix later that season. As the last race of the year Vettel was not in contention to win the championship albeit Lewis Hamilton who he was racing was leading going into the race. Again in wet conditions with only a few laps remaining Vettel was brave enough to overtake Hamilton and demote him from the 5th place needed to win the championship. Eventually the rain proved too much for the dry tyres of Timo Glock’s Toyota. Despite this Vettel’s overtake demonstrated incredible nerve as on a wet track it would have been so easy to go into the back of Hamilton and cost the Englishman the world championship.

These experiences show that Vettel will not fall under the pressures of winning races and qualifying and that competitors will have to beat him for pace if they are to prevent him winning his second world championship crown come the end of November.

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