Sebastian Vettel: The rights and wrongs of the “Crash Kid”
Scuderia Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: The rights and wrongs of the “Crash Kid”
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 Aug 2010   |  9:11 am GMT  |  272 comments

In the aftermath of the Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has come in for a fair bit of criticism for putting himself out of contention once again and damaging his championship chances.

Spa was his third retirement of the season. He is now 31 points off the championship lead. He’s made things more difficult for himself, but with 150 points up for grabs, he can still recover.

He’s under the spotlight for a collision with Jenson Button, which put the world champion out of the race and he made five visits to the pits, including a drive through penalty. It was another messy day, when there was a clear podium to be had from his fourth place on the grid.


But he has also found support from some quarters, with some fans and pundits feeling that the penalty from the stewards was too harsh. Many of those who defend him point to his age, just 23.

But there is more to it than that.

McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh called him the “Crash Kid” after the race, which is clever and will almost certainly stick to him for a while, increasing the pressure. And it is the pressure, in my view, that is the issue here.

Vettel is very fast and as intelligent a driver as you will find on the grid, but he’s not handling the pressure well this year. In a Red Bull car which clearly deserves to win the title – Schumacher had the title wrapped up in July or August in the years when he had such a car – Vettel feels under pressure to get the job done, but has failed to impose himself on his team mate or secure the necessary race results.

There is no doubt his weak point, exacerbated by the pressure, is impetuousness. particularly in races, as we saw in Istanbul when he collided with his team mate, or Silverstone where he insisted on a pass at the start that was never going to come off. Ron Dennis used the word “impetuous” after the race,

“It seems Sebastian is just too impetuous,” says Dennis. “Look at the incident with his own team-mate (Istanbul), look at incidents that put him out of the race. It’s good to push, it’s good to be competitive, but there are so many historical lines in motorsport and the one that fits him more than anything is, ‘To finish first, first you have to finish.’

Red Bull boss Christian Horner is not afraid to confront this. He says that Vettel is aware of his growing reputation as an impetuous racer, but has the capacity to change that, “Nobody knows that better than Sebastian, he is a pretty mature individual,” said Horner. “He analyses his own performance very, very carefully and I am sure he will bounce back from this. He is a great racing driver, he is still a very young guy and it is easy to be very critical on somebody who is relatively inexperienced – but for sure he will learn a lot from what happened.””

I’m sure he will too.

It’s not just about his age. Vettel is young, just turned 23, so he is the same age now as Lewis Hamilton was at the start of the 2008 season. He has more Grands Prix starts under his belt than Hamilton had then; Spa was Vettel’s 56th Grand Prix start where Hamilton had only 17 starts at the same age.

Hamilton made mistakes in his first two seasons in particular, such as crashing into Kimi Raikkonen in the pit lane at Montreal. He was also involved in his fair share of controversies, like the accident behind the safety car in Fuji in 2008. However Hamilton won the world championship in that second season, having fought for and lost the title the year before. In that second season he had less pressure from his team mate, McLaren had put Heikki Kovalainen alongside him to replace Alonso, but he had the pressure of expectation on his shoulders, not least from his father, who always pushed him hard.

Vettel had the advantage over Hamilton of being able to serve an apprenticeship out of the spotlight, first as a well used Friday driver for BMW and then at the Toro Rosso team, with whom he competed in 2008. Alonso had the same thing with Minardi and then an up and coming Renault team. This is worth a lot; Hamilton was thrown straight in to a championship contesting car, with the strongest driver in the sport as his team mate. The only thing mitigating the pressure in that situation was that everyone expected Alonso to win the title, so he was able to push against that. Hamilton showed some impetuousness in those early years too, but not as much as Vettel.

If you look back, many champions have it. It was impetuousness that caused Mika Hakkinen to try to pass Michael Schumacher in Macau, there are countless examples from the early careers of Senna, Schumacher and others.

I think it’s a negative quality which is born out of a positive one, in the sense that great competitors, who feel they should be ahead of the man in front, want to impose themselves and feel they must do so. It’s the mentality of a champion.

It is this part of Vettel’s psyche which finds it so hard to deal with Webber’s competitiveness, for example. But it goes wrong when it’s deployed at the wrong moment, in the wrong way, as we have seen a few times now with Vettel.

He wants it all now, but he hasn’t yet learned to pick his moments.


Vettel is not as sure footed coming through the field and passing cars as Hamilton. They both had the same schooling in karting since the age of 8, but Vettel is less comfortable in close proximity to other cars. That is something he has to take into account when racing others. As a competitor, you are only as strong as your weaknesses.

Winning in F1 isn’t simple, it’s very complex and it takes a blend of the right car, the right team environment and the right mentality to pull it off. Alonso was considered F1’s most complete driver a year ago and yet his struggles at Ferrari, for example, show that he can make mistakes when there is a high emotional charge around him. That’s something he and his team need to put right.

I think Vettel has the raw quality to overcome his “Crash Kid” moniker and go on to be one of the top drivers. Hamilton had a difficult year last year and has come out of it an immeasurably stronger and more complete driver and person – he knows when and how to pick his moments and he has got the maximum out of every opportunity this year.

Vettel will be seasoned by these tough moments, take heart from the notion that anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and will step up a level in 2011. He is very grounded and has more F1 experience than Hamilton had at this age.

All that’s lacking now is the mental poise that comes from maturity.

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1

As a Seb fan, I look back on this piece and think you deserve a great lot of credit James. I found it really impressive that at least one F1 journo was able to look on the situation and bring a balanced, objective viewpoint to it, while everyone else wanted to lay the boots into him.

He was nothing short of awesome for the rest of the season, and from the outside looking in – I thought he was much more his usualrelaxed, funny and happy self from before Singapore onwards.

It was a stunning last few months he had in which he managed to see off the sheer quality of Alonso and Hamilton (albeit in very slightly inferior cars MOST weekends), but also a quick, hugely experienced teammate in the form of his life, with the upper hand a pretty big lead.

Seb wasn’t beaten by his teammate since August. It was nothing short of ridiculously impressive and dominant recovery, which is a testament to his great character and self-belief.

A truly, truly deserving champion and I couldn’t possibly express just how delighted I was for him on Sunday.

2

While people talk about the number of points on offer for a race win implying that drivers have a chance in the championship for longer, the picture over the course of a season is turning out differently. Under the old points system, Vettel would now be 10 pts behind Webber (61 to 71) – a gap he could close in one race (even if he would still have one less win than Webber as it stands). Now, he is 28 points behind (151-179), and requires at least two races even if Webber has a DNF.

Is this new points system really sustaining a close championship fight? Mathematically, not for Vettel.

3

When you compare Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, it is very clear that Hamilton is better than Vettel. When you compare them based on their best F3 results where I think gives a clear indication about driver talent, Hamilton in 2005 had an average of 7 Pole Position, 7.5 Wins, 8.5 Podiums, 8.5 Points Finishes, 5 Fastest Laps and 81 Points from 10 Races. In 2006, Vettel had 1 Pole Position, 2 Wins, 6 Podiums, 8 Points Finishes, 2 Fastest Laps and 56 Points from the 10 Feature Races (points based on 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 formula, no points for Pole Positions and Fastest Laps). It is quite clear that Vettel is less talented than Hamilton, and will take more time to develop than Hamilton, and not to the same level as Hamilton. Vettel’s talent earns him a place in a midfield team, Hamilton’s talent gets him a place in a frontrunning team.

Red Bull are doing no favours for themselves this season, as it should have been all over by now. They are not only harming winning the championships this year, they are also harming the competitiveness of the 2011 car. I will not be surprised at all if they turn up with a ‘dog’ or a car not running at the front in Bahrain next year.

4

I suspect that Vettel’s probably having a few dashes of self-doubt with his morning omelets these days. It’s pure sports psych…if you miss the jump/throw/pass a few times, and especially if you start hearing the voices saying “He can’t pull it off without duffing it”, then you’re toast. If RBR was smart about it, they’d sit him down with someone to do a quick counseling session or two & work that doubt out of his head. I know of an Olympian or two who’s had the same kind of issue, and it’s not something you can just practice away.

5

23 or 33 if he doesn’t come up with the goods next year he will be looking for a new drive.

For sure he is fast, but put 70% of the grid in the Red Bull and you will have a contender for the wdc.

Ron Dennis called him impetuous, which is a perfect description of him.

If Button concedes the wdc in the next couple of races. I’m sure he will back Hamilton to the hilt in getting him the wdc. I cant see Vettel ever doing that and that is another weakness. Sometime you gotta smell the coffee.

How perfect is the McLaren at the moment. Support them or not, their driver line up is the best on the grid. Both wanting to beat each other but loads of respect. Where else is that in the top teams?

Whatever happens this year Hamilton is becoming a legendary driver and I will look back at some of his drives with the same admiration as Mansel and Senna.

6

I think that Vettel has the potential to be WDC because of the fact that he is in the fastest car this season, and not particularly because of his percieved talent. Of course he is talented otherwise he wouldn’t be in F1, but in my view he has nowhere near the talent of Hamilton, who consistently outdrives the car that he has been given. Nor does Vettel have the ability to, like Button has, to exploit the car’s potential, apart from in qualifing where he has acheived 9 front row starts in 13 races.

Weather or not he can learn to maximise the potential of his race car remains to be seen, but its doubtful that he will have a car that is 1 or 2 seconds a lap quicker, at the some circuits, for the rest of his career, so its only going to get harder for him to win the WDC if he manages it at all as clearly he is up against some immense drivers. If the cars were all equally matched, I think that he would be behind Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Kubica, Schumacher, Rosberg and possibly Massa and Webber.

He may well learn his craft and hone his skills, and I might be proved wrong but if he can’t take the WDC when its been offered to him on a plate by Adrian Newey, can we please stop this talk that he’s going to be a WDC and wait for him to do it, if he can muster it at all.

7

Well said. Amen!

8

I think you are wrong about Vettels overtaking ability but right about his impetuous nature.

The reason why the red bull finds it hard to overtake is due to the lack of straight line speed and power. It may be the fasted car through the corners by a very significant margin but there is only one line through the corners.

This will also make it one of the most frustrating cars to drive, to be so much faster than the car in front through the corners where it is impossible to overtake, unless a mistake is made, then as soon as you are on a straight where it is possible to overtake the car in front will just sprint away.

you cannot compare his overtaking to hamilton, who has always had a car with the the most powerful engine and highest straight line speeds.

9

Straightline speed often has little to do with overtaking in racing. Most passing is actually done under braking conditions, that is, outbraking your opponent while going into a corner.

The reasons you cite for Vettel’s overtaking skills, or lack of them, simply don’t apply.

10

Button definitely moved in the braking zone by veering left which caught out Vettel.

Apparently such moves as this are supposedly frowned upon. Button complained about this regarding Nakajima or Kobayashi in Brazil last year. DC has moaned about this before in his RBR days. Nice to know he kept quiet on this after the race.

11

I agree with you, James. I also think you are spot-on regarding Alonso. I wish Ferrari curbed their enthusiasm (hello to Larry David!) with a little bit of rational thinking.

12

The closing laps of the 2008 season proved enthralling because a certain driver who supposedly can not overtake had no trouble disposing of Hamilton…

13

After Hamilton went wide when his tyres were overheating. Not exactly impressive.

14

I really don’t see how people can claim that Hamilton was immature in 2007 and 2008.

Thinking off 2007, sure he went off in China, but McLaren kept him out so long that the rubber was completely gone.

Schumacher was on supersofts for the last 30 laps in Canada 2010 (where supersofts lasted only 10 laps really) and the result was that he got humiliated by almost the whole field coming past. Alonso came out on intermediates in Spa and had to switch back to slicks 2 laps later. Are these veterans making rookie mistakes?

The only real mistake Hamilton made in 2007 was to battle Alonso and lose a lot of places to boot in Brazil. If he’d just let Alonso go and followed him around he’d be wdc. indeed THAT was being impetous and a rookie mistake (although his car going into neutral didn’t help either)

In 2008 Canada was bad, but other than that he didn’t do a whole lot wrong. Bahrain maybe, but accidents happen when you drive a damaged car. Fuji maybe then, but I though his first corner penalty was ridiculous and ultimately he was taken out by Massa. Not Hamilton’s fault. Hamilton made a perfect pass on Massa and Massa couldn’t handle it.

So what says that Hamilton was acting immature before 2009? Where do we see the improvement?

Hamilton makes one maybe two mistakes a year. Seems perfectly the norm for even the most veteran drivers.

In 2009 vettel took himself out of the points due to dumb mistakes in 4 races (Australia crashed into Kubica, Malaysia grid penalty + spun off, Monaco crashed, Hungary Crashed into Raikkonen and damaged suspension)

This year again already 3 big errors. Crashing into Webber in Turkey, “impetuous” start in Silverstone landing him a puncture and now his crash and subsequent drama in Spa.

His drive-through in Hungary was pretty dumb too, but it didn’t cost him that much. Similar to his cutting corners in Singapore in 2009 resulting in a “speeding” driver through penalty.

Still he, just has too many of these big points losing blunders. Even though he has been in F1 as long as Hamilton.

15

Very fair and balanced, James. Perhaps these “young driver” programmes, the like of which Vettel has come through (Hamilton too, being a Mclaren protege from a very young age) are actually doing as much harm as they are good? Vettel has the talent, but he’s been put into the position to use it at a stage where he is simply not grown-up enough.

I’m hoping, too, that Messers Horner and Marko are being constructive in the background, analysing mistakes and not just making excuses for the golden child. His reputation has taken a bashing this season, but so has Hamilton’s in recent years, and he’s come out of it stronger. As I still feel Vettel can be good for the sport, I hope he does the same!

16

What Vettel needs to learn is that sometimes the inside line is going to be occupied by his competitor (i.e. Webber at Turkey and Button at Belgium). He thinks just because he’s in the slipstream it’s his God given right to be given space to attack on the inside. I’m sorry Seb but experienced racers like Webber and Button don’t hand out freebies and are never gonna leave the door open like that, it’s obvious.

Also, Christian Horner says Button braked early into the bus-stop and that’s what caught Vettel out… well duh. I mean for goodness sake Christian, Button had a damaged front wing and was on the inside approaching a tight right hander at over 200mph. If Button broke at his usual point he would have almost certainly outbraked himself and not made the corner. Vettel needs to take these things into account when followings another car so closely, he was clearly surprised but the point is he should have assessed the situation well in advance. You could tell he didn’t want to get out of throttle when he realised the inside was covered but violently trying to switch the car to the outside at that speed was always gonna end badly.

This mistake much like the way he cut across Webber in Turkey shows a clear lack of maturity in his racecraft/overtaking. I’m a Brit so I’m probably biased but I honestly believe Jenson and Lewis are 2 of the best overtakers in the business and could definitely teach Vettel a thing or 2 about how to pass fairly and decisively.

17

Well written James. Keep up the good work.

18

So Vettel has a few crashes. Thats no reason to call him the Crash Kid. It is F1!. I like the moniker of “Biscuits”. Because like a biscuit, he crumbles under pressure.

19

Not even in his early career but even after three world titles Senna made this kind of mistakes. Just because he always wanted to win the race.

I clearly remember him driving in the back of Mansell in the last GP of 1992.

Maybe a more calculated approach (like Prost) would have gotten him more world titles, but he is seen as one of the best ever.

So maybe Vettel will be in the future. Because he is fast (regularly faster than Webber).

And Webber made the same mistake when trying to overtake Kovalainen this year.

And after seeing the footage from within the car I wonder if the front wing caused the problem which made him crash into Button.

20

James I like what you have to say. I am of the opinion that Vettel did not deserve a penalty for his crash at Spa, I think it could have been avoided by not racing so close, but then why don’t we just cancel F1 if we are going to penalise close racing?

I do however think that Vettel’s current position on the learning curb once again highlights just how good Lewis Hamilton is. I am amazed that more credit is not given to Hamilton and I am amazed that he is not rated as the clear No.1 driver in F1 today. His Rookie season had to be the toughest team mate competition for any rookie ever, and his coming out the victor was simply astounding.

That Vettel is not as far along as Hamilton was at the same age, but with a LOT more experience, is further evidence that Hamilton is more special than he is given credit for. Hamilton out races his car, his team mate, the track conditions, the competition and even the biased stewarding in the past. He is the No. 1 overtaker and the No. 1 results fetcher; best results he can get more often than anyone else and that’s why he is leading right now, despite having a lesser car than the 2010 Redbull.

If Alonso was Hamilton’s team mate this year, Alonso would be behind him on the standings in my opinion!

21

I don’t rate Vettel that highly and I certainly don’t feel sorry for him. He’s fast in a fast car granted, but where is this “intelligent” coming from? Is he good at Maths? Does he study Astrophysics? Because I can’t see that “intelligent” relates in any way to his race craft. I suppose it makes sense given his lack of carting experience – perhaps he has more experience with bumper cars by the way he smashes his way past other drivers 😉

That said, I really hope he does mature because he could be as good as Hamilton or Alonso if he does, and that would make him exciting for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones.

22

I think the same thing happen to , Vettel may now upset as does Alonso in 07.

When Alonso think that he can beat Lewis easily, the frist few race Lewis is not in Alonso eye . . then it go another way, he got the tough teammate to beat especialy his teammate is just rookie, that why aloso so upset about his quality, the best driver was beaten by the rookie.

the same happen to Vettel, he think he could beat Webber easily too, Webber just not in his sight . . everyone in Redbull think about it that way too. And also thing go another way, Mark get stronger and beat Vettel in several occasion, so Vettel get upset then do messy thing.

What Vettel did well in only in Qualifying, but in the race he is so so . . . Like Jarno Truli that he is Qualify very well but does not shine in the race. . . . Is Vettel can be just Mr.Qualify ?

Mark was rated as ordinary driver, good one but not the extra one. This year, with the result of Mark Webber. Is he getting better? or Vettel is actually just the ordinary driver who was overrated.

If we put another tougher teammate like Hamilton or Rosberg or someone else, Vettel may look so so . . not overrate like he is right now.

If he is so good, he should beat Mark Webber easily but that is not the case.

Is he so good as people rate him?

23

When you look back you can see clearly that Mark Webber more often than not has enjoyed an advantage over his team mates throughout his f1 career, especially in qualifying performances.. I can’t help but wonder if this is a part of Vettel’s struggles being that Mark is a f1 veteran and would have more than a few tricks up his sleeve to unsettle his team mate..

Now Vettel is playing with the big boys this is something he will have to live with throughout his career and as he progresses from year to year he will learn to deal with it better an better as well as dish out some psychological torment of his own to a younger teammate at some point in the future..

I’m not saying this is the only cause for Vettel’s struggles this season but when you start to add all these things up..

24

Superb article. I really like Vettel and on a personal level he comes across incredibly well but I have to admit that he’s just made too many mistakes but I have complete confidence in him succeeding and he will no doubt win a championship still in my mind.

25

I think the whole problem is, Horner and RedBull had a clear view of what Marks roll would be and that was to support and develop Vettel.

Something happened earlier in the year that change all this, perhaps it was Turkey or Malaysia when Vettel won the race,to me tried to rub Marks nose in it.

Mark stopped playing ball and you get a sense of this when you hear Horner say in public “Marks a team player” the team comes first,this is an effort to get Mark to play ball.

The problem now is Mark has completely destroyed Vettel’s confidence and the only people you can blame are Redbull, for not keeping Vettel in check early in the season.

26

I think the whole problem is, Horner and RedBull had a clear view of what Marks roll would be and that was to support and develop Vettel.

Something happened earlier in the year that change all this, perhaps it was Turkey or Malaysia when Vettel won the race,to me tried to rub Marks nose in it.

Mark stopped playing ball and you get a sense of this when you hear Horner say in public “Marks a team player” the team comes first,this is an effort to get Mark to play ball.

The problem now is Mark has completely destroyed Vettel’s confidence and the only people you can blame are Redbull for not keeping Vettel in check early in the season.

27

A giood article, and your thoughts mostly mirror my own. I am finding it hard to be quite as generous though in my thoughts towards him.

If he really wants to show maturity now, he will support Webber fully once he is no longer a contender for the championship.

28

Many of those who defend him, point to Vettel’s age 23…..I’ll bet those were the same people who savaged Hamilton when he was….23.

At Fuji in 2008, and the incident regarding Hamilton and the safety car. Vettel crashes into Webber, yet there were those who were trying to lay that on the doorstep of Hamilton. Lewis I imagine with some, had the responsibility of driving 2 cars at the same time. This is another example of the double standard that Lewis has to face, when you look at the actions of Jenson Button, while leading the field behind the safety car at China in 2010. As Mark Hughes of Autosport noted, ” Button slowed outrageously at the hairpin causing low speed mayhem as everyone fanned out, tripping over each other in their efforts to not make an illegal pass “. Hardly a peep regarding Buttons actions behind the safety car, but Lewis….well Lewis….many of his critiques were frothing at their mouths, and in The Twilght Zone regarding Fuji.

29

And this is the same Jenson Button who had a big moan about M Schumacher slowing the field down whilst behind the safety car at Monza in 2000.

30

Totally and utterly agree. With Vettel the most we hear is, he’s young, he’s going to be a champion, he’s a prodigy, he’s quick, he’s this, he’s that….Only till this incident do you even see any critics come out, while with Lewis, oh wow….if he even breathes wrong you have a horde of analysis calling him immature, arrogant, stupid, never be a great driver….

I fully believe Hammy is the best driver in the field by far, and Vettel, however talented(debatable) will never be an equal to Hamilton as far as challengers are concerned.

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