Sebastian Vettel became the youngest-ever double F1 World Champion in 2011. Here’s the first part of our recap of how he did it.
Here’s a stat to raise a smile: of the 20 drivers who completed the full 19-race 2011 F1 season, the worst starter, on average, was… Sebastian Vettel. Seb finished lap one on average 1.37 places lower than he started it, losing a net 26 places overall in the year.
Before anyone starts consigning Vettel to the scrapheap of history, it’s worth pointing out that the only driver who can’t make up any places of the start line is the guy on pole – and Seb started there a record 15 times from 19 races. And of the 26 places he lost, a whopping 23 came courtesy of a first-lap puncture in Abu Dhabi. If anything it’s a statistic that really proves how dominant a year Seb has had.
Albert Park, Melbourne, Australian Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 1, Fastest Lap: 4
Let’s be honest, everyone in F1 is a liar. Part of the fun of winter testing is trying to figure out just how much truth there is in the times teams are posting as they hammer around cold Spanish asphalt. Is a fast car running light? Is a slow one carrying a lot of fuel? Even with some pretty sophisticated interpretation methods it’s difficult to know for sure – and that’s why the first race of the year is so exciting. Until, that is, the reigning World Champion blows everyone away by eight-tenths of a second in qualifying. And if that wasn’t depressing enough for the opposition, Sebastian cheerily confirmed after the session that no, that wasn’t a graphical glitch and yes he, like Mark Webber, really didn’t have a working KERS. He went on to take victory by 22 seconds over Lewis Hamilton, very much starting where he left off in 2010.
Sepang Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 1, Fastest Lap: 6
Same results but a very different weekend as Seb grabbed a second pole and a second victory but with only a tenth to spare over Hamilton for the former and just a three-second lead at the end over Jenson Button. Webber again suffered a KERS failure, so it was left to the McLarens to challenge Vettel. They looked much better at hot, humid Sepang with Hamilton, not for the last time, looking good over one lap and Button, also not for the last time, driving a great tactical race and finding great pace on the harder tyres towards the end of the grand prix. It looked like the season might not be a foregone conclusion after all.
Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, Chinese Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 2, Fastest Lap: 8
This one ebbed and flowed. Vettel took a dominant pole but made a rotten start and had two McLarens in front of him after the first corner. He led again but lost out to Hamilton four laps before the end, as the Englishman’s three-stop strategy told everyone a lot about the value of having a set of fresh Pirellis in reserve. Meanwhile, Webber, like Hamilton running three stops instead of the standard two, climbed from 18th on the grid to third in the race and got on the podium for the first time in 2011.
Istanbul Park, Istanbul, Turkish Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 1, Fastest Lap: 3
Seb hit the wall during a slippery Friday practice, but apart from that didn’t put a foot wrong with pole and victory. Webber had a ding-dong battle with Fernando Alonso and eventually came out on top to give RBR its first one-two finish of the year.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spanish Grand Prix
Grid: 2, Race: 1, Fastest Lap: 4
Barcelona has always been a happy hunting ground for Webber, and so it wasn’t enormously surprising when he ended Seb’s run of pole positions. But again he struggled off the line while Vettel shot off like a startled ocelot. Hamilton looked hungry and was all over Vettel’s RB7 in the closing stages, but even with KERS and DRS, Barcelona isn’t big on passing opportunities.
Monte Carlo, Monaco Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 1, Fastest Lap: 2
A real snorter in Monaco saw the race building towards a grandstand finish with Vettel on worn tyres being hounded for the lead by Alonso and Button. The drama was cut short by a late-race red flag allowing everybody to change to fresh tyres, but it was clear Vettel had his work cut out to win in the Principality.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canadian Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 2, Fastest Lap: 2
Seb managed to lead every lap of the Canadian Grand Prix, but still conspired to finish second. Button, having pitted six times and after running dead last well into the second half of the race managed to take the lead on the final lap after Vettel made his first mistake of the season and slithered wide on the greasy track, after pushing hard to get out of DRS range of the quicker McLaren. Webber brought home his car in third to ensure a ‘bad’ day for RBR saw the team increase its lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
Valencia Street Circuit, Valencia, European Grand Prix
Grid: 1, Race: 1, Fastest Lap: 1
Demonstrating how badly affected he’d been by losing in Canada, Seb took pole, victory and fastest lap in Valencia. Probably best to not annoy him…
Silverstone Circuit, England, British Grand Prix
Grid: 2, Race: 2, Fastest Lap: 3
A bizarre race for many reasons. The technical regulations regarding the blown diffusers kept changing over the weekend in a series of more-than-usually interesting meetings between the FIA technical delegate, the engine manufacturers and the teams. Red Bull were thought to be at a disadvantage but locked out the front row anyway. Traditional British weather made for a damp grand prix, the usually-flawless RBR pit crew had a disaster, Webber having a slow stop with a stuck wheelnut, Seb having a slow stop with a broken jack. Alonso took Ferrari’s only win of the year with the Red Bulls trailing home a confused second and third.
Find out what happened next in part two of our trip back through the F1 season tomorrow…