Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and the upstart brand in Formula 1
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Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and the upstart brand in Formula 1
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Jun 2011   |  11:48 am GMT  |  321 comments

Although he has started less than half as many races, Sebastian Vettel has now equalled Fernando Alonso’s 20 pole positions, has passed Lewis Hamilton’s pole tally easily and with his win on Sunday he equalled Hamilton’s total of 14 wins.

The events of Monaco weekend showed that this is all rather hard to take for Hamilton, as it was for Alonso before him. The three men stand head and shoulders above the other F1 drivers in terms of their quality and their dominance of the sport.

The man and the message (Red Bull)

This year Vettel has the faster car and has made good use of it so far, but Hamilton and Alonso have challenged when the car has allowed them to. Hamilton won in China and Alonso was lining up to attack in Monaco when the race was stopped. The second half of the season should see both the older men coming back at Vettel. Hamilton had targeted Monaco and even more so this weekend’s race in Montreal as events he could win, given the relative performance of their cars.

It’s all about succession- or rather premature succession. When Ayrton Senna died and Alain Prost retired, there was an obvious candidate to step up and become F1’s reference point: Michael Schumacher.

And he held that role comfortably for over a decade, fending off the likes of Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and even Mika Hakkinen. When Fernando Alonso came along and took two world titles in the mid 2000s, Schumacher knew his time had come.

Alonso was confronted almost immediately by Lewis Hamilton, who in turn now finds himself contemplating a younger man in a team which is on top of its game. Vettel is cutting up F1 and grabbing the headlines, with a world title last year and surely another one this year – with five wins in six races already.

As I stood on the quayside on Saturday night in Monaco, surveying the huge Red Bull floating motorhome with over 1,000sq metres of floor space on three levels plus a swimming pool, it struck me how powerful has become the upstart brand in F1, represented by Vettel, and symbolic of what Red Bull has done generally in Formula 1. They came in as the challenger brand and now they are the benchmark. They are now entitled to put their mouth where their money is.

A few years ago, when they bought the shambolic Jaguar team, based in Milton Keynes, they struggled to get a hand hold on the greasy pole to victory. When they rolled up in Monaco with the floating gin palace it seemed so brash.

But since hiring design genius Adrian Newey and with the arrival of Vettel in 2009, they’ve been a constant factor at the front and now it is established teams like Ferrari which are buckling under the pressure and whose motorhomes seem modest.

Ferrari’s sacking of technical director Aldo Costa was a hugely symbolic moment – it spoke volumes that an energy drink company is doing it better than the doyenne of Formula 1.

The sport embodies the theory of evolution on fast forward; the survival of the fittest and the most fitting. Ferrari have survived over 60 years and their energy and ability to adapt is admirable, but in sport no-one is immune to changes.

Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz has often said that he has no plans to sell his company or float it on the stockmarket. “It’s not a question of money,” he argues. “It’s a question of fun.”

Despite his success and his youth, Vettel looks to me like he’s become far more serious this year. He now has the target on his back, but more than that he’s keen to prove that he’s not just winning because of his car, he’s winning because he’s maturing into Hamilton and Alonso’s equal. Not everyone in F1 buys that yet, but wins like Spain and Monaco, both achieved under intense pressure, are showing a real depth to Vettel’s talent.

The 2011 season is a journey for the young German; a journey away from being the upstart brand towards being the establishment.

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First let me be honest and say that I am a fan of Mclaren and Lewis Hamilton in particular (although Jenson’s recent win in the rain has greatly improved my respect for him).

In terms of the ‘who’s the best driver’ debate, here’s what I think:

Best Driver

1. Alonso

2. Hamilton

3. Rosberg/Vettel

Fastest Driver

1. Hamilton

2. Alonso

3. Vettel/Rosberg

To clarify, whilst I believe Alonso brings most to a team- in terms of feedback, understanding of how the car works/should be set up etc (much like Schumacher), in terms of raw pace Hamilton is faster. Vettel has been incredibly lucky to have a vastly superior car, his teammate would have beaten him to the WDC last year were it not for the internal sabotaging. Failing that, a poor strategy call from Ferrari cost Alonso. Whilst Vettel started in what some have called an average car, he has only been successful in the Red Bull which I honestly believe would be leading the WDC were it driven by any of the top 8 drivers.


I am surprised to see Vetel this year.. a complete revelation, Down to earth, friendly and quicker than last year. Must say, he is dawning a new era in formula one.


Don’t forget that last years championship would have been webber’s if the team supported him.would schumacher have won so many championships if the team did not support him as number one driver.

vettle even took webber out in turkey taking

points from webber.

if u look at the times last year webber was not far of vettle’s pace and the difference may have been only because webber weighs more from being the taller driver.

I feel that last year webber was the better driver but so far this year vettle is now showing he is better.


Five yars ago, I thought it’s gonna be Alonso who would eventually beat Michael’s records. Three years ago, I thought it’s gonna be Hamilton who would eventually beat Michael’s records. Last year, I thought it’s gonna be Vettel who will eventually beat Michael’s records. Everything changes so fast these days, who will be the favourite to beat the records by next year? Is Vettel better than Alonso or Hamilton, who knows? Ten years ago, the question who was the best was even a no-brainer. Same during the fifties. Nobody ever dominated F1 like Schumacher or, to a lesser extent, Fangio. But is that because those too were exceptionally good, or is it rather because their respective opposition was rather weak? Well, their supporters will claim it was because of their particular skills while their detractors will claim it was because of the weakness of the opposition, which made them look so much superior. But who is right?


I think it is a very pertinent point that Hamilton’s recent demeanour is result of the frustration of seeing a younger challenger making winning seem easy, like Alonso in 2007, and facing the reality he isn’t going to beat Schumacher’s records.

Once he does come to terms with that he’ll be a more consistent driver with fewer accidents born out of that frustration.


People forget that there is more to a driver than what they do on the racetrack over a Grand Prix weekend. I know some people hate that and wish it was all down to the 90 minutes on Sunday, but it’s not.

A point I always made about Schumacher was that his greatest achievement was building that Ferrari team around him. Ask him what his most satisfying championship was, and he’ll say 2000. It was the culmination of 5 years of hard work and the way that team was centred around him spoke far more for his ability than the string of records that followed, since it was the team-building (and the hours and hours pounding round Fiorano) that made the records and the dominant car, tuned to match the driver in perfect harmony, possible.

I do not want to turn this into a driver v. driver debate – some of the comments above make it clear that that is thoroughly teduous half the time – but rather make it clear that there is always a bigger picture at play with any great (or prospective great) champion, some of which we frankly aren’t in a position to know a lot about.


I see my spelling & grammar have failed me…


I’m rather late with the Vet/Ham/Alo debate.

I am a huge Hamilton fan (my family does not agree). At the end of the 2006 season I was depressed ‘coz Schumy had left, and I couldn’t support any of his rivals now could I. Then Hamilton came on and I (+ many other people) had a new drive to support (I am a driver supporter and not a team supproted).

Hamilton has shown over the years that he has the best car control of any driver today. I truly believe he is on par with Senna in that regard, he can make the car dance if he wants. I believe Button, Vettel etc. does not have that outright talent. The race where he really showed this was Silverstone 2008, where he beat the rest of the field by over a minute, while most of the other drivers spun, and in Spa 2008 when he won (and was stripped of it) and where Raikkonen went into the wall.

I do not believe he is the fastest driver though, because he does not have the smoothest driving style. Raikkonen had the most fastest laps in 2008. But does that make a driver great, or his ability to adapt the changing conditions etc?

Hamilton is not living up to his name in the last couple of races, so I hope he bounces back in Canada…

And for the “win from the back” argument, I agree with a previous comment that it is not really possible in modern F1. Schumy won from the back because he made a mistake quali or the race and had a superior car. Hamilton and others has finished high up the order a few times from the back.

To see a “alomst” win from the back (placed 2nd) see his GP2 Turkey race 2006.

But the greates diver is still Senna, can’t wait to see the documentary…


F1 without either Lewis or Fernando would be a much poorer spectacle for a whole host of reasons, not least of which human drama and the back story – they’re needed. Vettel, like Kubica, would be missed, but, meh, the show would go on. Ham vs Alo is a necessary ingredient, Ham vs Seb or Alo vs Vet nowhere near as exciting/interesting (yet).


The debate hasn’t yet generated 300 comments so time to add some more fuel to the fire :

For the combined 2010 & 2011 seasons :

Webber : 7 fastest-laps

LewHam : 6

Alonso : 5

SebVet : 3

Therefore, seems pretty clear that for current drivers in current cars, Webber is the fastest.

Alternatively, my method of deciding is just as silly as many of the other ones mentioned in this debate. Funny (or sad?) how we can be talking about human rights on one day and then, next day, arguing about why my favourite is better than yours.


What people tend to forget is that even the worse driver out there is lapping within a few SECONDS of the best of them. Every single one of them is a phenomenally brave extreme athlete. Please just enjoy all of their talents and dint get too mixed up with the who is best endless debate that goes on and on. Remember noone thinks Stirling Moss couldn’t drive but he didn’t win a championship.


With regards to the “Vettel only winning from Pole” discussion going on here, I don’t understand how being an exceptional qualifier makes people think of him as a bad racer. I will freely admit that he still lacks some of the skills of the greats when coming through traffic, but Hamilton / Alonso (and other past greats for that matter) don’t always make multiple clean passes per race. Hamilton was little short of a menace in Monaco.

Senna had 65 poles and 41 wins – does this mean he was a “bad” racer because he only converted 63% of poles? I think not – it’s just he was probably the best qualifier in history, and he wasn’t quite as good in the races. Drivers like Schumacher and Prost (both having substantially more wins than poles) were probably better racers than qualifiers, but again it’s all relative.

The point is, I think Vettel actually suffers in these comparisons because he is *so* good over a single flying lap.


The point is, I think Vettel actually suffers in these comparisons because his car is *so* good over a single flying lap.

-Correction finished.


excellent mate!

To bring into consideration another startling fact about Vettel, he didn’t have the best car in two of the five races he won, viz Monaco n Barcelona. Ofcourse McLaren was clawing onto his rear both times but he watched his back pretty well. An year ago, it might have ended in tatters but now that the monkey is off his back, I think Vettel is driving at his best and yes, Hamilton is no match to Vettel because the brilliant ovrtaker that he is, he makes a mockery of himself when the moves don’t work. And Vettel on the other hand has got controlled agression, controlled in the sense like he showed in Barcelona and aggressive in the sense like he showed in Silverstone last year.

Hamilton is a trier no doubt but he’s erratic and fundamentally flawed. He just can’t see people passing him, a trait which might have made him a great two deacedes back but not anymore. After all, people do see a red light in the pitlane.



I think nearly everyone agrees that Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton are above the rest. But who would you rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd, both in outright speed and as a complete package (team leadership, race-craft and -intelligence, qualifying speed, absence of avoidable errors, etc.)? I know it’s not an easy call …


Complete package? Fernando Alonso. Wait, it wasn’t that difficult…



How could you miss Kimi from the list, the guy who ‘amazed’ James Allen quite a few times when he was driving at his peak. He was surely a better driver in 2007 and 2005 than anyone else who appeared on the grid then. And all these ‘motivation’ talks that some harp are rubbish because we never know what went wrong in the Hockenheim test in 2008 when all of a sudden Felipe Massa started showing promise with the help of a certain ‘shark fin’. And subsequently there wee motivation talks and the arrival of a certain Spaniard who would later thrash Massa from his presence. All too easy in F1!

Anyways, Vettel has equalled the record of Lewis ‘the erratic’ Hamilton, in lesser number of races.

Vettel wins




2011-5 so far

Hamilton wins





2011-1 so far

eric weinraub

James, sometimes your revisionist… must be something truly British… view of events really gets tiring. Let me help you with regards to Schumacher! In 2006 Michael, mainly because of pressure to sign Raikkonen, back injury, and pressure from Carina, Michael retires… I guess you were busy doing something else when Michael lapped more than 1 second faster than the entire field at the season finale in Brazil 2006. There was no… ‘he knew his time was up’ crap! He was forced out to make way for a driver who has delivered… let’s see… a WC in a car built for Micheal who once it became time to WORK, fled! Vettel is a great driver in the CLASS car of the field. of course he’s beating the tar out of everyone.


I think you are working on some very wrong assumptions about me here. You overlook the fact that I wrote a biography of Michael when he retired – with co-operation. I was close to that situation as a result. And as a result of having written two books with him I think your assumption that I don’t like him is ridiculous. Our careers overlapped – I started in F1 the year before him. I’ve had many dealings with him and there is no problem there. We get on fine


A couple of points,

• The fact that Hamilton was ranked ahead of Alonso in 2007, by virtue of an extra second place, is no more meaningful as the fact that in 2010 Alonso finished second, in the 3rd ranked constructor car, to Hamilton’s 4th, in the 2nd ranked constructor car.

You decide whether it’s meaningful or not.

• I think some people here suffer from historical conditioning and car performance typecasting when evaluating Vettel as a driver.

How could Vettel win in not the best car and you believe that it wasn’t the best car?

I think it’s probable, in Spain, Vettel did not have the fastest race package – and he was also without KERS.


Come to think of it, Lewis idolized Senna and considers Alonso as “his Prost”. And along come the baby Schumi, who is dominating the sport. Quite ironic isn’t it.

James, how many titles do you think Vettel will win?

To me, it looks like four is a very realistic figure,he is only 23 and almost two titles under his belt.


I can see him winning this one and at least another one. If he stays at Red Bull and they have a run like Ferrari in 2000s or Williams in 1990s, who knows?


Has F1 ever had 3 top drivers in the same era ?


Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet. Maybe not all of them had top drives, but they did all race together.



Personally, I feel that Vettel is the better driver of the 3 for a number of reasons.

Vettel is not simply feeding on the fortunes of Adrian’s fast car, he works hard and is putting all efforts to make sure that he is ahead of his teammate and ahead of everyone else.

Other good points:

Vettel and Alonso can drive in the rain, thats something Alonso can’t do.

Vettel and Alonso is so much more mature than Hamilton.

Vettel and Alonso is way ahead of his teammate, which Hamilton is not.

Vettel is also a thinker as demonstrated in the Monacco GP and his other recent wins.


Vettel and Hamilton can drive in the rain, thats something Alonso can’t do .

-Hungary 2006? Nurburgring 2007? Magny Course 2008 (Only Fernando and Nick were able to end the race without spinning if i remember)? Brazil 2008? Australia 2010? Korea 2010? lol.

Vettel and Alonso is so much more mature than Hamilton

-Alonso yes, Vettel…

Vettel and Alonso is way ahead of his teammate, which Hamilton is not.

-Marke Webber is NOT WC, Felipe Massa is NOT WC, Jenson Button IS WC.

Vettel is also a thinker as demonstrated in the Monacco GP and his other recent wins.

-Yes, he thought “here is imposssible to overtake, let’s go slow and save tyres”. What a genius.


Have people forgotten that aero build their cars and fine tune them based on the feedback of the driver ??? Sitting behind a computer and wind tunnels can only get you so far – not only must the driver be fast, but also communicate back to the engineers and aero what the car is telling them and how it can be improved.


James, I have to say that I really like the balanced insight of this article and the discussion point it forms.

It’s interesting to see how the other competitors are unable to deal with the consistency of the Red Bull machine.

Hamilton looks to be the most affected and maybe not winning the championship with McLaren this year will surely only guarantee 1 more year of losing in a McLaren before he finally jumps into a winning seat and takes Vettel on in the same package.

It would be a mouthwatering prospect to see Hamliton and Vettel trying to out qualify each other on Saturday and then out DRS each other on a Sunday.


I honestly don’t know where vettel fits. I think for outright pace he is there but I want to see more of his race craft. I can’t seperate Hamilton and alonso and I think only time will put vettel in there bracket. Vettel for me though is clearly the third best and rightfully should be seen in alonso and hamilton’s class.


Well, we all know that a driver who wins the championship has the best car, or at least the 2nd best car. Maybe the 3rd best car, but this is really strange (McLaren-unreliable car when Ferrari and Renault were battling by the championship, years 2005 & 2006, so Renault or Ferrari would be 3rd fastest, in a subjective opinion of which car was worst).

So what we are talking about here is Vettel, if he is a superb driver or he has a superb car. In fact I think this is all true, however I think that the question is that his success is a bit distorted when we need to count his wins and compare them with Alonso, Hamilton, Raikonen… because I doubt they had a car 1 second faster than the 2nd, a 1.5 second faster than the 3rd, and such. And of course they didn’t have a car which was the fastest in every track.


Cut Alonso from this, he is pure PR product of Briatore and others. When did he had teammate to challenge? Lewis was in his first Year and blow him away!

And Fisico and Massa are just play teamates. Though Massa was No1 effectively at Ferrari during Kimi time, but more as sanction for Kimi than on his merit.


No one is better at getting the car pointed straight as soon as humanly possible exiting turns than Vettel.

Both Hamilton and Alonso do a lot with braking and rotating the cars entering turns, but neither maximizes the straights as well as Vettel.

Perhaps that is why both Hamilton and Alonso are seen as better passers (i.e., “racers”) while Vettel is seen as being merely quick (i.e., a “frontrunner”).

However, I think that Vettel’s style lends itself better to qualifying, which means throughout his career, everything else being equal, he’ll continue having the best chance to get poles and thus being in the best position to win races.


Interesting post regarding driving styles – I certainly believe one of Hamilton’s major strengths is on the brakes and Alonso can certainly hustle a car.

But maybe, the simple reason that Vettel can get his car pointed straight out of turns quicker than the other two at present, is simply because of the significant advantage the Red Bull has in terms of downforce and thus getting drive out of medium and high speed corners?

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