Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing receives a trophy for posting the most fastest laps this season before the the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 25, 2012 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

For some reason the idea of supporting an underdog in any sport has come to include disparaging the strongest opponents as well.  Red Bull’s Formula One team and Sebastian Vettel have come under much criticism over the past three years for a myriad of untrue, unsupported and unfair claims by fans, other teams and even some media outlets.

There are three areas I believe we can observe to get a confident, not opinion laden, understanding of just how much Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing deserve every bit of recognition they have received:

  • Historical Outstanding Performance by Vettel
    • Vettel performance in various series before 2010:
    • 2001 – Won Junior Monaco Kart Cup
    • 2004 – Champion – German Formula BMW, also won 18 of 20 races
    • 2005 – Formula Three Euroseries – Top Rookie honors
    • 2006 – Won World Series by Renault at Misano
    • 2007 – First in Word Series by Renault when Formula One called
    • 2007 – Youngest Driver to ever score a point in Formula One at US Grand Prix (16 days short of 20 years old)
    • 2007 -  Finished 4th from 17th on the starting grid at Chinese Grand Prix, as Toro Rosso driver
    • 2008 – Finished 5th from 17th on the starting grid at Monaco Grand Prix, as Toro Rosso driver
    • 2008 – Youngest Driver to ever Win a Formula One and youngest to achieve Pole position at Italian Grand Prix, as Toro Rosso driver (just over 21 years old)
    • 2009 – Pole position on starting grid and and First place in Chinese Grand Prix ahead of Mark Webber, who less than 2 years prior had been very critical of Vettel stating: “It’s kids isn’t it… kids with not enough experience…”  in response to an accident that in hindsight was reportedly caused by Hamilton, not Vettel.
    • 2009 – Over all Vettel drove for 17 Grand Prix, winning 4, taking pole on 4, finished in one of top 4 positions 11 times and finished in 2nd in the points for the championship. He was retired in 5 races.  To come in 2nd after 5 retirements is not an easy feat.  Jenson Button, who won 2009’s Championship, only retired 1 time.

  • Performance between Vettel and Webber using very, very similar racecraft.
    • From 1/2010 until 12/2012 these are the statistics:
      • 2010
        • Vettel – 5 first place, 3 retirements, Won Championship, beating Webber by 14 points
        • Webber – 4 first place, 2 retirements, 3rd for Driver’s championship
      • 2011
        • Vettel – 11 first place, 1 retirement, Won Championship, beating Webber by 34 points
        • Webber – 3 first place, 2 retirements, 3rd for Driver’s championship
      • 2012
        • Vettel – 5 first place, 2 retirements, Won Championship, beating Webber by 102 points
        • Webber – 2 first place, 3 retirements, 6th for Driver’s championship 
  • Vettel suffered retirement 6 times in the past three years times while Webber suffered 7 times.  Not enough evidence with this information to say that Vettel had a far superior car especially when few of the retirements for either driver were due to equipment failure.
  • Qualification and Race performances
    • If we look only at Vettel’s record of very strong qualification results then this consideration doesn’t remove the argument that Vettel is successful because the car is just stronger than the other teams’ cars.
    • For the record though here are some numbers:  Schumacher – 68 poles in 18 years (3.7 p/year avg.), Ayton Senna – 65 poles in 10 years (6.5 p/year avg.), Sebastian Vettel – 36 poles in 6 years (6 p/year avg.), Lewis Hamilton – 26 poles in 6 years (4.3 p/year avg.), Fernando Alonso – 22 poles in 11 years (2 p/year avg.), Mark Webber – 11 poles in 10 years (1.1 p/year avg.). 
    • If these averages don’t tell a story of Vettel’s achievement without any room for argument of driver talent then there probably isn’t any way to judge any driver at any level.
  • However if we look a comparison between the Qualification places, Final race positions and change in positions from qualification to final race, we see another of statistically supported (not opinion) example of Vettel’s skill:
    • Points for Starting Position for all 20 2012 races (lower is better)
      • Webber 108 – inconsistent, but same car as Vettel for the most part
      • Vettel 106 – very close to teammate with same Red Bull/Renault equipment
      • Hamilton 84 – did the best in qualifying (faster car?)
      • Alonso 127   - he had a much worse qualifying experience than others (slower car?)
    • Points for Final Race position for all 20 2012 races (lower is better)
      • Webber 154 – worse finisher of these four but only second worse qualifier
      • Vettel 108 – second best of the group, clearly Hamilton could be faster, based on qualy, but in a group, where great skill is required, Vettel takes it.
      • Hamilton 192 – this could be a result of equipment reliability issues but then why strongest in qualification?
      • Alonso – 104 worst at qualifying but best finisher of the four, good driver skill?
    • Points for Position change from qualification to race final (higher is better)
      • Webber (-)46 – this is a negative 46 places he lost over the 20 races from starting grid.
      • Vettel (-)2 – Vettel lost 2 position over the 20 races, close to par.
      • Hamilton (-)108  - yes, he lost 108 positions from start to finish in the 20 races, worst of the group.
      • Alonso +23 – clearly a great driver in the race when compared to weakest qualification as he gained 23 positions over the year, at a couple of which he owes to Massa.
    • Total Retirements – Driver luck is often a stated reason for performance or lack thereof, but see below Alonso and Vettel had the same number of retirements. 
      • Webber 3
      • Vettel 2
      • Hamilton 5  - one could argue that avoiding retirement is as much of a skill as driving quickly.
      • Alonso 2

Alonso is an amazing driver in my opinion.  Hamilton has talent he hasn’t fully tapped into. Webber is great at moments.  None of these statistically supported statements detract from the greatness, proven dominance and superior results that Sebastian Vettel has consistently demonstrated over the past 6 years in many different environments. 

Don’t be a hater.  Vettel earned his 3 World Championship.  That doesn’t mean Alonso and Hamilton didn’t do very well.  The bottom line is Vettel did better.