When Sebastian Vettel burst onto the scene back in 2007, many forecast that Championship-winning success was something of an inevitability. Of course, that proved to be the case, as he clinched four consecutive Drivers’ titles between 2010 and 2013. After hitting the heights with Red Bull, the German opted to pursue a new adventure and switched to the famous Scuderia in 2015. Unfortunately, however, neither the car nor the driver could get back to the sport’s pinnacle. In turn, this has left many asking one question; did the 33-year-old underperform at Ferrari? Well, let’s look back at his time with the Italian team.
The German Believes He Failed
To even suggest that a four-time Drivers’ Championship winner is a failure seems a little absurd. However, it speaks volumes about the expectations that both he and Ferrari had that such a discussion is valid. Following the switch, there was widespread optimism that Vettel could replicate Michael Schumacher and become the first German to claim the title with Ferrari since his fellow countryman achieved the feat in 2004.
Primarily, that was always the goal for Vettel. Although he won his last Drivers’ Championship in 2013, the Scuderia hadn’t been at the top of the pile since 2007, when Kimi Raikkonen beat Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton following his first-place finish in Brazil. Having fallen short of his ambition, Vettel didn’t hold back in describing his time at Ferrari, labelling the spell as a “failed” mission. To the German’s credit, his time in red coincided with Mercedes’ reign of dominance. As such, this made title-winning success a near-impossible task. Of course, F1 is a results-driven business, and Ferrari’s performances with Vettel at the wheel ultimately fell short of their objectives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he failed.
In both 2017 and 2018, the 33-year-old pushed Lewis Hamilton all the way, finishing second in both campaigns. Although the Englishman proved to be a step too far, Vettel often proved to be the obstacle in Mercedes’ quest to secure the top two spots in the drivers’ standings, with Valtteri Bottas only beating the German in 2019 and 2020.
Missed Opportunities Throughout the Partnership
Perceptions of Vettel’s time with Ferrari ultimately come down to widespread beliefs on how achievable a Drivers’ Championship triumph was. On paper, it’s evident that his car often let him down, as he only finished within 50 points of Hamilton on one occasion between 2015 and 2020. Fascinatingly. Ferrari’s former boss, Jean Todt, points the finger at the famous Italian team and not their former driver concerning their collective failure. At Ferrari, Schumacher won five world titles, and the Frenchman believes that the team’s together during the late-1990s and early-2000s unlocked their potential to achieve record-breaking success.
Vettel, however, wasn’t fortunate enough to experience similar levels of stability. Todt outlines that a lack of togetherness hindered the German’s chances of replicating his idol. On reflection, this appears somewhat true. When Vettel joined Ferrari, the constructor was in transition, as Maurizio Arrivabene had only recently taken over from Marco Mattiacci as the team principle. Throughout Arrivabene’s time with Ferrari, he and Vettel enjoyed a positive relationship built on trust. However, Mattia Binotto replaced him in 2019, and the four-time Drivers’ champion won just one race during his troubled two-year spell under the team’s current boss. Although Vettel is no longer in Ferrari’s line-up for 2021, Binotto kept his position. Looking ahead, the team are 14/1 in F1 betting at Betway to win the Constructors’ Championship in 2021 under the Italian, as of February 19th.
Although some of the blame for their collective failure rests with Ferrari, driving errors also saw Vettel fall short of making his dream a reality. In 2017, which offered the German his best chance of success with the Scuderia, he infamously drove into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes under the safety car in Baku. As a result, he received a stop-go-penalty for his actions. Looking back, the former Red Bull driver has stated the incident was one of the biggest mistakes of 2017.
A Period of What-If
Ferrari, Vettel, and the Scuderia’s loyal fan base will long look back at Vettel’s career in red and ponder what could have been. While fault lies with both constructor and driver, they could have won a couple of World Championships together in any other era. However, it ultimately wasn’t meant to be. That said, although they failed in their goal, Vettel himself wasn’t a failure.