Is Sebastian Vettel finished as a force in F1? His latest worrying and stupid error is a new low

Luke Slater
The Telegraph
In a spin: Sebastian Vettel endured another chastening and difficult grand prix in Italy - Getty Images Europe
In a spin: Sebastian Vettel endured another chastening and difficult grand prix in Italy - Getty Images Europe

Sebastian Vettel is a four-time world champion, winner of 52 grands prix and one of the greatest drivers of his era, if not all time. Sebastian Vettel is a liability in an F1 car who is making mistakes at a worrying rate and arguably deserves to lose his Ferrari seat for next season. 

These two contradictory statements are both correct but show the conflict in how the German is currently performing against how he did at his peak and, ultimately, how he will be viewed when he comes to hang up his helmet. 

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His spin at the Italian Grand Prix was one a rookie would be rightly criticised for. His decision to then rejoin the track sideways, when others were flying through the high-speed Ascari chicane, would have been shameful if you were playing F1 2019 online.

For someone of his experience to do it in an actual grand prix is unfathomable. Two years in a row he has been in a car that could have won at Monza but instead endured a nightmare afternoon. 

After the race, Vettel was asked if he had lost any love for Formula One. "I still love what I do but surely when you are not doing well you can't be happy," he said. "Not doing well" is a vast understating of Vettel's last 18 months or so.  

<span>Sebastian Vettel observes a 10-second stop/go penalty at the Italian Grand Prix</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
Sebastian Vettel observes a 10-second stop/go penalty at the Italian Grand Prix Credit: AP

The doubts over his place in F1 and his current ability continue, at a time when his younger and more in-form and lauded team-mate has won back-to-back races. 

After his most dangerous error yet, the question marks have formed into something more concrete. His drop in form is too long to be considered a blip and you have to start to wonder whether Vettel is finished as a force. How much longer does he have left in the sport?

Vettel's latest mistake was poor. Strategy-wise it was crucial that he at least stayed in touch with Bottas ahead of him in third. To spin how he did could have cost Ferrari the win at Monza, leaving Leclerc exposed and clearly lost them the 12 points he would have scored for fourth. But the way he tried to rejoin the track was fully deserving of the 10-second stop/go penalty he received. Doing so side-on at such a high-speed chicane is asking for serious trouble.

Vettel said he could not see Stroll approaching and replays show him looking to his left a couple of times before returning to the circuit. Of course, he would not have pulled away if he'd have known a car was approaching. But he must have known there was a good chance of a collision and it was lucky that Stroll did everything he could to avoid a serious crash. 

"He just came back onto the track like an idiot," Stroll said. Idiotic is one way to describe it. Can you imagine the reaction of that had been Romain Grosjean, Vettel's only serious rival in the mistakes market? To go with his in-race penalty, the German received three points on his licence. That means if he receives another three between now and the US Grand Prix in October he will face a ban. What an indignity that would be. 

The timeline of Vettel's slips is extensive and prolonged. A top-class driver contending for the title might expect to make one or two of these a season at most. In contrast, Hamilton has made just one significant error since the start of the 2018 season. Vettel has now made nine in the last 28 grands prix. 

They are also increasing in severity. In 2018 there were significant mistakes in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA. Largely they were relatively minor mistakes or misjudgments with huge consequences.  In 2019 Vettel has fouled up in Bahrain, Canada, Great Britain and now in Italy. Only Canada can be classed as a small mistake with big consequences.

In Bahrain he spun on the exit of turn four after Hamilton had just overtaken him. Poor. At Silverstone he severely misjudged his braking when dueling with Max Verstappen, slamming into the back of the Red Bull. Not good. In Italy, the combination of an unpressured spin and rejoining the track in a massively unsafe way are the worst of the lot. 

His poor form is not limited to mistakes. His overall effectiveness is also on the slide. After his four consecutive world titles for Red Bull from 2010-2013 he experienced a chastening season when Daniel Ricciardo replaced Mark Webber alongside him. Vettel went through the season winless as Ricciardo took three victories and third in the championship, 71 points ahead. 

Vettel moved to Ferrari the following year with Raikkonen as team-mate. Every season they were together he comfortably outscored the Finn. In four seasons, Vettel took 13 wins to Raikkonen's one.  Some of the margin was down to Vettel being the clear number one driver and team leader but he was still the quicker and better driver for four seasons. Now the tables have turned. 

It is no secret that Ferrari prefer to have a clear 1-2 structure with their drivers. Look at the strange decision they took early this season, when they fell over themselves to maximise Vettel's points.  But in 2019 Leclerc has now become the de facto leader after just 14 races. His star is on the rise whilst Vettel's seems to be in danger of collapsing in on itself. He has failed to cope with the arrival of a super talented youngster in the sister car. 

Is there any danger of Vettel not being at Ferrari for 2020? He appears to be contracted until then and it is not a clear decision as to whether he should stay or go. Who would they replace him with? Hulkenberg? Alonso? Vettel has still enjoyed some decent weekends in 2019; he should have won from pole in Canada and was the better of the two Ferrari drivers in Monaco and Hungary. 

But since that meltdown in Canada he has been out-driven and out-classed by Leclerc. In the seven rounds since he has scored 69 points to his team-mate's 113. Barring a near-miraculous turnaround, it is hard to see Vettel at Ferrari beyond 2020 and if he continues at Ferrari next year only to be beaten you would have to question his motivation to continue in the sport at all. 

Perhaps leaving the Italian team at the end of this year would be the best thing for him, whether for another outfit or not. But anywhere he could possibly go to would be a step down. Is it worth it? It has worked for Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo.

Vettel's work at Ferrari looks done and it seems like a reset is needed.  The break between last season and this clearly wasn't enough. The mistakes have intensified and now he faces the prospect of no longer being The Chosen One at Ferrari.

Nothing should be taken away from the driver he once was, but Vettel is at the lowest point of a career that looks to have entered a deadly spiral. Only time will tell if he has the skill or the will to escape it. 

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