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There's Always Been Vettel

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
03/12/2020

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!).

Ah.

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!"

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by F1 Yank, 17/12/2020 17:17

"Max Noble - I believe I will spend years of time time pondering what the "On a cat retainer" quote actually means! You are fun-ny! ha ha! "

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 11/12/2020 3:28

"@Cricketpo - good to see you saddle-up the ol’ keyboard once again. Yes, the M. Noble, PitPass “La La Land” extravaganza continues a record West End run... :-)

George Russell’s showing in the Mercedes gave many pause to think about the car/driver ratio where it comes to winning. Thankfully Lewis had his thumb firmly on the “Knobble” button last weekend and pressed it firmly at just the right time.

It was Wellington who was one of the biggest fans of Napoleon’s military genius. Took every opportunity to point out Napoleon was simply the greatest Commander in history... leaving it unsaid that as he best him across all of Europe before thumping him one last time with a crowd pleasing encore at Waterloo, he was actually the greater...

Adrian Newey and AMG Mercedes are the two superstar winners of the past few years. “Add driver to taste” could be considered an optional garnish...

Simply fascinated to see how AMG-Beta, I mean Aston, go next year...
"

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3. Posted by cricketpo, 10/12/2020 11:30

"Apologies for spelling and grammer issues. Typed from mh mob "

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4. Posted by cricketpo, 10/12/2020 11:27

"It has been some time since I passed this way, what with the pandemic an all, but it is nice when, amongst all the changes we have had to endure that some things never change. It is genuinley good to see that Max's version of La La Land is alive and well. His gentle reminder that the english music scene in the 1970's was as desperate as it appears all these years later!
Vettel is an interesting case study and no mistake. I have never met him and off track i hear only good things about his personality. However he appears to resemble a spoilt child from time to time. He had the winning combination at Red Bull. Car, team etc and then joined that team that with a few exceptions, including Michael Schumacher, live to prove that their greatness is all in their own imagination! Iy is thay same attitude that gave us Lamborghini back to Vettel. Some of his behaviour suggests he HAS realised he made an error of judgement thinking Ferrari could maintain his success but that he is not going to admit it. David Cojltard has spoken about whaf it was yhay persuaded him to step away from F1 driving. He once admitted he kept finding himself in or causing situations that he didnt used to. He recognised the signs that dedpite feeling on top of his game tgere were signs he was not. It is a bitter pill to swallow and a crdgit to him thsg he did. Let us hope Vettel shows ax mucb character in his new drive"

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 08/12/2020 23:19

"@Workin chap - Got to be honest I am a fan, like Hamilton, I consider Vettel to have remained very human in the crazy universe of F1. If the “soon to be Aston” team improves their car as much between 20 to 21 seasons as they did in the 19 to 20 season break we could yet see Vettel on the podium... ignoring the fact the team should be called “AMG Mercedes Beta”....

@F1 Yank - Glad you enjoyed it... yes most of my allusions and “Max Speak” (the PitPass version of Ron speak...) is usually based around an obtuse reference that has frequently driven long suffering esteemed editor Balfe around the bend.... :-) (I’m on a retainer from his cats, but don’t tell Chris that...)

Fully agree with your observations about Salo, Zanardi, Hill etc. I think that Vettel has plenty of speed left in him if he can only refocus the passion and energy. This season at Ferrari has looked exhausting. My main concern is what mental state Charles will be in by the end of the 2021 season... He has many long, long, race weekends in the Ferrari ahead of him... and I’m excited to see Alonso back. He is unique and I have strong expectations of some classic drives from him in 2021..."

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6. Posted by F1 Yank, 08/12/2020 17:28

"I would have to admit this is a well written and entertaining article. The parallels with musicians/music is a very delightful notation alluding towards Vettel's last song. (My interpretation) Cutting to the chase, Vettel's move to Racing Point is not uncommon as discussed above. Sometimes I wonder as well with drivers and professional sports stars, why did they go there? As with many in the limelight, challenges within are how to counterbalance their strong driven egos and curb the thought they can do the same elsewhere. However as we age, our abilities and how people perceive us change sometimes subtly and sometimes drastically. In Indycar this is much easier to do, however in the F1 arena, if you are behind in a mid pack car you are waaay behind. I for one really like to see RAI compete and enjoyed the likes of Mika Salo, Damon Hill (In the Arrows), Jacques Villenueve, and Alex Zanardi attempting to squeak every bit of performance out of a car that has already been under a hydraulic press for a year. The mid pack competition is actually better and more entertaining than the front runners, I just wish the broadcast crew would give more attention to them. I hope Vettel finds more kindling and refuels his fire. Another question off topic but somewhat pertinent (since the article was about Vettel) what does Alonso think he can accomplish in the Renault? After PER's performance over the weekend that the seat he should be in. "

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7. Posted by Wokingchap, 08/12/2020 16:02

"Never been a Vettel fan, but as he's going to drive an Aston Martin I could change my mind.... only if he starts winning again of course and I really hope he does."

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