Now the Real Silly Season Begins

Sebastian Vettel closed the V8-era with nine consecutive wins, an all time record: a record that, for odd reasons, has been met with some indifference. Four titles on the trot, total domination of the field, an absolutely imperious second half of the season, yet the general consensus among ‘fans’ seems to be that, no, it can’t be so, Vettel is not a ‘great’ driver.

Nonsense; best car in the field or not, you don’t win four world titles on the run without a special degree of talent. For me, Vettel’s outstanding quality – especially this season – has been his ability to be on it, absolutely and completely, from the off, to put in astonishingly quick opening laps that must have left his rivals wondering just what more they could do. Add to that his ultimate consistency, and you have all the merits of a great driver.

All the usual arguments – he has the fastest car, we haven’t seen him come through the field, it’s Adrian Newey at the helm and so on – don’t add up: it’s Vettel’s job to start from the front, and run away from the field. In other words, in making it boring, he’s doing what he’s paid for. I, for one, feel privileged to have witnessed such talent, just as I did with Senna, Prost, Schumacher and so on. I may not have liked them all, may not have been a fan, as such, but I still admire their ability.

So, the best driver in the field, then? No; that accolade goes, without doubt, to Fernando Alonso, the frustrated Spaniard whom one gets the feeling is heading down a rocky route into 2014 with Ferrari. I’m not sure anyone on the grid has the ability to drag a truly unworthy car into the positions it has finished in this season. To finish second in the title race, ahead of the second Red Bull, was a truly impressive achievement.

Farewell, Mark Webber. There has been an outpouring of love for the likeable Aussie, but will he really be missed? By his fans, of course he will, but drivers come, and drivers go. Webber has had a great F1 career, and must be recognised as one of the finest drivers of the past few years. That he’s chosen to take his talent to Porsche, and the daunting task that is the Le Mans 24hrs, certainly raises interest in that race for me and, I suspect, others. Out with the old, then, and in with the new.

Other news: Ross Brawn has left Mercedes F1, destination as yet unconfirmed. The strong money says he’ll take a year out, some say he’ll resurface with the FIA, others see him at Ferrari, at McLaren, at Williams. I would hazard a guess he will emerge in some form with the upcoming McLaren-Honda partnership, but we have to wait and see.

The driver market: it seems that everyone is waiting on a couple of pieces of the jigsaw to fall into place. Money is the key issue: Lotus is waiting on the rumoured Quantum deal, which few now believe will come about; Sauber is hanging on a string with the promise of money tied to Sergey Sirotkin, which few now believe will come about. In all of this, Williams appears to have come out smiling, it’s severance deal with Pastor Maldonado having brought about a little cash, while allowing the inconsistent, if very quick, Venezuelan to move on.

But to where? Three drivers – perhaps four – are vying for the apparent remaining seats, with that at Lotus – alongside Romain Grosjean – the most desirable. By rights, it should belong to Nico Hulkenberg, but the very talented German – one of the stars of the season – has a desire to be paid a wage, and without the Quantum money, that doesn’t look promising. However, that nothing has been announced yet is telling; some believe that Maldonado has already agreed terms, but why the wait if that is so?

Sergio Perez, ousted from McLaren, is also in the frame, and Martin Whitmarsh has implied heavily that he has secured the Mexican a berth on the grid; this is likely to be at Force India or Sauber. The former will drop Paul di Resta, it seems, and the strong rumours say that Adrian Sutil has already signed for Sauber. That leaves Hulkenberg and Perez at Sauber, which on paper, is not a bed line-up at all. Again, however, nothing is certain.
With the race on to get engines and new chassis ready for next season – and stories emerging of exploding Mercedes V6’s on the test bed at Brixworth – it’s all go in the F1 world, and with the drives at Caterham and Marussia yet to be confirmed, think of this: going into a new era, with a fresh set of technical rules, only one team – as we stand – can boast driver continuity from 2013 across 2014: that team is Mercedes, make of that what you will.

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