Yesterday the boss of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, said that “Sebastian (Vettel) has improved and is stronger than ever. He has prepared during the winter break like never before and he will certainly not let us down.”
With just two weeks to go until the wraps come off the new cars from the challengers for the championship, attention is building on what kind of season we will have and how close the racing will be.
Mateschitz went on to say in the same interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, that he thinks the closest challenger this year will be McLaren, then Ferrari and then Mercedes. Before any of the cars turns a wheel that is also my assessment of what lies in store. If that is the case then Vettel’s superiority over his team mate may be a crucial factor in the battle with the two McLaren drivers, who are likely to take wins and points off each other. I’d also expect Lewis Hamilton to shake off the malaise that affected him last season and be on top of his game again.
Fernando Alonso enjoys an even greater superiority over his Ferrari team mate and is very clearly the Scuderia’s favoured runner in any tight situation.
In a close title fight these could prove the decisive factors. And I expect a closer title fight with car development again a crucial factor throughout the long season.
Red Bull ended the 2011 season in very strong form with a 1-2 finish in Brazil and there is every reason to expect them to pick up in Melbourne where they left off, despite the banning of the exhaust blown diffusers on which they led the way in collaboration with Renault.
But Mateschitz choosing this moment to suggest that Vettel has taken his training and preparation to a new level in anticipation of the new season is interesting.
Vettel is young and, despite saturation levels of success in the last 36 months, he’s still hungry. That’s one key message here. Another is that he still has more development and maturity to come as a driver.
The success in 2011 was all about the team reaching the highest levels in all areas; design, development, operations, strategy, tyre management, crisis management and above all driving.
Keeping the momentum of a large organisation going at such an extremely high level is very hard, especially when winning becomes a habit and your well funded rivals are gunning for you. But the inspiration comes from the man who holds the steering wheel, the rest of the team follows.
At this early stage I’d suggest that Vettel starts favourite and will step up another gear in 2012, both in terms of driving and team leadership in search of the third world title that would put him among the greats like Senna, Prost, Schumacher and Stewart in the record books, even if many fans still deny that he merits that status.
He’s the man to beat.