By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Sebastian Vettel, the 25-year-old phenom, scored his 28th Formula One victory in the Grand Prix of Bahrain on Sunday. Think about that for a moment. Vettel will be 26 on July 3rd, and he already has more race wins than Jackie Stewart (27). Stewart, the talented Scot, accomplished his wins in 100 starts, while Vettel has started 105 Grand Prix races. But still, Vettel is clearly on a path to become one of the all-time greats in the sport.
I don't want to dwell too much on the black hole that comparing drivers from different eras leads to, but if you go by winning percentages in F1 Vettel is already moving up the list. The top drivers are Juan Manuel Fangio (24 wins in 52 starts, for a winning percentage of 46.15 percent), Alberto Ascari (13 wins in 33 starts, 39.9 percent), Jim Clark (25 wins in 73 starts, 34.25 percent), Michael Schumacher (91 wins in 308 starts, 29.55 percent), the aforementioned Jackie Stewart (27 wins in 100 starts, 27.0 percent), Vettel (28 wins in 105 starts, 26.67 percent), Ayrton Senna (41 wins in 162 starts, 25.31 percent) and Alain Prost (51 wins in 202 starts, 25.25 percent).
The other black hole of this discussion that's almost impossible to avoid is: Is it because of a great car, or pure talent? It's no secret that we've seen talented drivers rise to the occasion at the very moment they're handed all-conquering machines. Look at what Mario Andretti did with the Lotus 78 and 79 Grand Prix machines. The ground-effects Lotus F1 machines were tremendous cars, but if it weren't for Mario's car development skills, would he have been able to win his World Championship in 1978? Doubtful. In that case it was the car and the driver coming together in perfect harmony to dominate the sport.
Then again the top drivers seem to gravitate to - and attract - top talent. Look at the winning team that Ferrari forged during the Michael Schumacher era. The best of the best for the best. Could someone else have delivered the wins that Schumacher had, given the same equipment? Possibly. But then again we'll never know, will we?
But at this very moment in time, it's Vettel. Yes, Red Bull Racing has some of the best technical talent if not the best in the business, but nonetheless the other teams and drivers are very, very good as well. It just seems that Vettel has that certain "magical" quality when he's on point and at his best.
I remember talking to the great Super Vee driver and eventual owner of Summit Point, Bill Scott, one day (way back when) about the possibility of drivers having the "magic," that elusive and yet almost mystical quality behind the wheel that sets a certain driver apart from the rest. For him (and for back in that era) it was Jackie Stewart. "He was the only one I've seen who had the 'magic,'" Bill said, thoughtfully. "He not only did it better than the rest, but it was the way he did it that was pure magic."
The modern era of Formula 1 is far different than any other era that came before it. Any of the romantic notions attached to the sport from previous eras have been swept aside long ago. The money needed to feed these teams is exponentially greater, the political atmosphere is even pettier and the traveling carpet-bagging feel to the whole show is undeniably depressing at times.
But at the end of the day it's still about drivers pushing themselves and their machines to the limit.
And right now, Sebastian Vettel does it better than anyone else.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives and Wieck Media)
Kyalami, South Africa, March 3, 1973. Jackie Stewart (No. 3 Team Tyrrell ELF Tyrrell 006/Ford Cosworth DFV) charges to his first win of the season in the 1973 South African Grand Prix after starting back in sixteenth position. Peter Revson (No. 6 Team McLaren Yardley McLaren M19C/Ford cosworth DFV) was second and Emerson Fittipaldi (No. 1 Team Lotus John Player Lotus 72D/Ford Cosworth DFV) finished third.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD