After a reputation-bashing final season at Red Bull, the four-time champion needs to start 2015 with a bang.
They say to choose a good reputation over riches; over silver and gold. Well, Sebastian Vettel has plenty of money, and lots of trophies (well, until most were stolen from Red Bull's cabinet). But it’s fair to say that his reputation took a bit of a beating from Daniel Ricciardo, waltzing (Matilda-like) into Red Bull and generally kicking his backside last year with a string of virtuoso performances and three wins to zero.
Did that hasten Vettel’s Ferrari switch? Surely it did. But following in the illustrious footsteps of his all-time hero Michael Schumacher by joining the Prancing Horse was always on Vettel’s radar.
Following in Michael’s footsteps
Just as for the 1996 season, when mutiple-champion Schuey left Benetton to join a success-starved Scuderia, Seb arrives at a team that is at a low ebb. Ferrari has failed to win a grand prix since May 2013, and that was with Fernando Alonso on board.
Alonso’s exit, and Vettel’s poor year with Red Bull, neatly aligned for the Ferrari association to be fast-tracked, as Seb was able to break his deal early due to performance clauses. But that’s where his good timing ends: he joins a team that is in a state of massive transition rather than stability. Sure, it’s a scenario he can turn to his advantage if all goes well, but Ferrari’s recent history has been traumatic rather than tranquil.
Two world champions with points to prove
No driver was impacted quite as badly by the 2014 F1 technical regulations as Vettel, and his failure to adapt to the non-blown diffuser was as remarkable as his rise to superstardom in the first place. He joins another driver whose reputation has been tarnished by last season: Kimi Raikkonen, once undeniably the ‘fastest driver in F1’, was trounced points-wise by Alonso last year by a factor of (almost) three.
Throw in Ferrari’s distinctly average power unit and misfiring aero department, and the recipe for fireworks seems unlikely unless its technical guru James Allison can produce a trick like he did at Lotus (where Raikkonen was again a beneficiary). But with a new broom sweeping through its upper strata of management and technical (namely chassis, engine, strategy and tyre) departments, quick fixes seem out of the question.
In it for the long haul?
It took five years for Schumacher to end Ferrari’s world title drought in 2000; how long will it take Vettel to guide F1’s most illustrious team to success?
It started well enough this morning, as he sneaked past the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg at the end of the Jerez pitlane to be the first car on track in the official F1 tests. Wearing his new white helmet, with a German-flag design running across the top, it's clear he wants to make a statement that the post-Red Bull Vettel is a different one, a reborn 'Sebby' if you will.
He’s also hoping this Ferrari will help him restore that reputation by overtaking some more frontrunners this year. As someone with a penchant for naming his chassis, Vettel fans will hope he’s got a nice moniker for it – and isn't calling it all the names under the sun after this week’s test…