Long-time, and mean-spirited folk might add long-suffering, readers of this modest trope, will know my delight at adding related musical or historical embroidery to the simple rugs we weave here at the Pitpass sweat shop. All made of recycled cat hair, moulted without pain or intervention, recreating loving designs of the pre-Renaissance Alhambra school. Yes, really.
So, with that (questionable) admission out the way, join me on today's ramble down the pit lane less travelled... The esteemed English progressive rock group Genesis released the delightful album "Selling England by the Pound" in the Autumn of 1973 (that's 47 years ago folks...). On this glorious example of artistic creativity we find their first UK top ten single "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)".
This art-rock wonder reached number 3 in the UK, and number 70 in the US. It was the second track on the album, after the equally bemusing "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight". Well, after the mandatory rambling prog-rock introduction, plus a brief bonkers moment of spoken-word prologue, the first verse commences with the line "There's always been Ethel" (swiftly followed by the second line, "Jacob, wake up! You've got to tidy your room now." - ah, the 70's...).
That line, "There's always been Ethel." Chimes within my mind - trust me dear reader, if you find reading this column bizarre I can assure you that being inside my head is far more surreal - every time Vettel has his own prog-rock bizarre moment these last few years. So I sing, "There's always been Vettel."... whenever he suddenly appears next to another car, causing both to spin out, has a post-race sulk, moves the winner's billboard from Lewis' car to his, forgetting the meaning of "Multi-21", or looks like a forgotten figure in a long forgotten MTV rock video clip... "There's always been Vettel..."
A refrain I think Christian Horner, Mark Webber, and now Sergio Perez and Lawrence Stroll are all singing (see esteemed editor, there was eventually a point!). Like wow, this man gets everywhere regardless of what he does. They can joyfully sing the "there's always been Vettel" refrain each time a new adventure or escapade explodes around them.
Seb is a four time World Champion. That is something of a calling card. He is also, according to most reports, a personable and intelligent man, which is a pleasing surprise at any level of business, let alone in the Twitterverse, on Instagram, or on the rock-star like world stage of global sport. "There's always been Vettel."
Yet we then have the old saw "You're only as good as your last game." Or in the rock world, the appalling sin of being a one-hit wonder, or "...lost after that remarkable second album" (did someone just whisper Coldplay down the back? Naughty!).
So this is where it falls over for dear Vettel. Such history! Such pedigree! Such character. Such a bad last game, set, match, and well actually tournament. My pardon. Make that tournaments. "There's always been Vettel."
World Champion four years running, 2010 to 2013. Pressed the game hard for another couple of years. A pedigree boasting nine consecutive race wins - still a record - thirteen wins in a single season, 120 podium finishes, and 57 poles, leading to 38 fastest laps. For a grand total of 53 wins. Summarised in those sublime four World Championships. Indeed "There's always been Vettel!"
From his first win for Toro Rosso at the Italian GP in 2008, until the sun set on the 2013 season. Five years as master of the on-track F1 Universe. Then a minor shin-kicking from Daniel Ricciardo, before zooming off to Ferrari to take the fight to Lewis ablaze with Maranello red.
Yet rather than being an on-track Red Barron, taking endless victories, while flying where only eagles dare, it was the misty red haze of tormenting pain that descended over the German.
Sure, he pushed Lewis hard for a couple of years, but he has long since fallen into a slump recalling all the pain of the post-Lauda Ferrari seasons, through to the blazing sunlit dawn of the Michael Schumacher era.
Indeed, Lauda was driving a partly self-financed BRM during the 1973 season, prior to joining Ferrari in 1974. His first World Championship following in 1975 at the wheel of the Ferrari 312T. No doubt the progressive tones of Genesis could well have bounced around the garage in those days, and one can whimsically think that Niki might even have hummed "There's always been Ethel." at some point in those golden days. Fast forward...
All those races Jean Alesi was on the verge of championship greatness – race, after race, after season, after season. In the end a lone Grand Prix victory in Canada. In those years, in those flawed Ferrari race cars, could any driver have done better? Fast forward again to the tail-end of the 2020 season, and Ferrari have masticated another champion to a goo of exhausted former hero. No worry for them, they have their teeth into young Charles for many seasons to come. Ouch. Could he now suffer as Alesi once did, and Vettel so recently has?
Vettel meanwhile, is doing an alarming impression of Damon Hill post-Williams, off to the grand visionary plans of Aston. The business universe might be talking "Industry 4.0", but Aston is way ahead of them, this must be what? Rebirth fifty-five? Well, possibly not that many, but it has been many relaunches for dear Aston. So we have united, the punch-drunk brand name and the former on-track hero. It's got to end coated in golden glory and delight, surely...? "There's always been Vettel..."
Or does the ghost of Alesi haunt these corridors too? Every driver to grasp a steering wheel in anger is resolute that they have a golden path to World Championship glory. Yet most will eventually bow out from the sport a few years later, thank the Lord, usually live these days, with possibly a few fine laps under their belt, an infrequent podium, and for the rare few, some race wins.
Vettel has not yet taken his exit to stage left. He is being pursued by the bear of underachievement right now, but with four, four, Driver's Championships already safely tucked into his glory box.
Damon had a modest single championship tucked in his satchel when he strolled into the joyful embrace of Arrows. A string of nearly dream-come-true moments all falling apart on the wrong side of the finish line followed, until, head remaining high, but record not enhanced, he moved into his true life's calling, that of being George Harrison's doppelgänger. A role he masterfully fulfils to this day. Head still high, spirit unbroken, golden history available for viewing by any that elect to go find it.
So many options for how this ends for Vettel! When Peter Gabriel departed Genesis, which was huge news for progressive rock lovers around the planet, and somewhat unnoticed by a rather larger group of humanity, he wrote an open letter in which he confirmed he was not "Doing a Bowie, doing a Ferry, or doing a furry boa..."
Alesi recently sold his beloved Ferrari F40 to continue financing his son's racing career, which appears to have stalled all the same. No son's career, no F40, no world championship. Yet here Alesi stands, a proud and capable man, with a remarkable racing career, and a feel for a car in the wet which is among the top on the planet, no matter the era.
Damon lives a family life, echoing reflections of George into a grateful universe.
So what now Vettel? When the helmet is hung-up for the last time, there will still be Vettel. The man, the father, the four-time champion, the racer. He already has a golden history confirmed in the record books.
Next season will be a coda no matter how it plays out. A decade or so from now, the four championships will be writ large, and the coda will be hummed by no one. Yet next season is still a delightful reality yet to dance into the light of day. For now we can savour that at least one last time "There's always been Vettel."
Gabriel rounds out the verse by singing, "Listen son you're wasting time; there's a future for you in the fire escape trade. Come up to town! But I remembered a voice from the past 'Gambling only pays when you're winning'..."
Has Vettel thrown open the fire escape to run from the burning building, or has he prised it open to run into the burning building? We the curious fans are about to discover which. He used to gamble when he won, and it paid out with glittering championships. Now he is not winning is this gamble going to return him anything?
For at least one more season we can smile, anticipating each race, safe in the knowledge that no matter his starting or finishing positions, Vettel will entertain. One more joyful season in which... sing it with me dear reader... "There's always be Vettel!"
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here