Sebastian who?

Tough start to the season for the champion, but that’s not unusual

Sebastian who?

Those among us who thought Sebastian Vettel could reach down, grab the sidepods and carry a slower car across the finish line first have had to reconsider that concept.

Why? Look at the results of the first five Formula One races this season: Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton.

Then look at the last nine races from 2013, beginning with Belgium. Sebastian Vettel, Vettel, Vettel, Vettel, Vettel, Vettel, Vettel, Sebastian Vettel, and Vettel, Sebastian. (Sorry, just trying to break up the monotony that was the end of last year.)

This isn’t to say Vettel is having a miserable year so far, because he isn’t. After retiring at the season opener in Australia, he has a third, sixth, fifth and fourth. But when we are talking about a driver of his caliber, having no wins and no poles five races in signals a problem.

The problem? Red Bull and Vettel have not quite figured out the mechanical and aero changes made for 2014 as well as others have. That, and the fact that a slower start is not entirely unusual for him. The last nine races of 2013, he averaged – obviously – first place. The first seven races, his average finish was 2.2, and would be lower if we factored in the eighth race, where he retired at the British Grand Prix with no points, the only time he finished out of the points in 2013.

In 2012, his start was even slower. He averaged a healthy 2.1-place finish in the last seven races, but in the first seven races, his average finish was just 4.7, with only one win. And he still proceeded to take the season championship. As for 2011? Well, he was strong from start to finish, wasn’t he?

And while Vettel is (barely) ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo in points, it’s only because Ricciardo was disqualified in Australia, and retired the next race, in Malaysia. With a fourth, fourth and a third in the last three races, it’s apparent Vettel has some genuine competition within his own team for the top spot.

It’s highly unlikely Vettel’s winless streak will continue indefinitely, though with four straight victories, Hamilton has the sort of confidence that reminds him at the beginning of each race that he should win if nothing goes wrong. For Vettel, his level of confidence has to have dropped to the point where he knows he can win, if something goes wrong with Hamilton.

That's a big, big difference.

Vettel could turn it all around at the next race in Monaco, where he hasn't won since 2011. But will he? If we see another Hamilton victory, his streak would begin turning from an aberration to a season-long trend, one that Vettel may not be able to derail.

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