Sebastian Vettel: The facts and stats so far
28 October 2013
For anyone tempted to boo or otherwise deride Sebastian Vettel in 2013, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on a truly impressive career in F1 to date and the string of records that he's set since he first stepped into the paddock in the summer of 2006 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old.
Originally from Heppenheim in Hesse, West Germany, Vettel had made his way into the big league via stints in the German Formula BMW (where he won the title in 2004 with 18 wins in 20 races) and the Formula 3 Euro Series. Even so probably no one gave the kid a second glance at the time as he took his first steps into the world of F1, not even when he became the youngest driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend by taking over from Robert Kubica as BMW-Sauber's test and reserve driver for Friday practice for the Turkish GP at the age of 19 years, 53 days.
The following season, some two weeks before his 20th birthday, Vettel received an unexpected phone call: Kubica had crashed heavily in Canada and was ruled out of the 2007 United States GP at Indianapolis. Vettel would get his first race start, and he went on to claim eighth place and a championship point on his début thereby making him the youngest man ever to do so (19 years, 349 days), usurping Jenson Button who had been a couple of months older when he'd set the previous benchmark in the 2000 Brazilian GP.
Now no one was oblivious to Vettel in the paddock any more, and he was being openly compared to his compatriot Michael Schumacher in terms of potential - the German press even dubbing him "baby Schumi." One man who listened and didn't waste any time in securing Vettel's services was the boss of the Red Bull drinks company, Dietrich Mateschitz.
Deals were done and Vettel's contract with BMW-Sauber was bought out so that Vettel could be installed at the Scuderia Toro Rosso junior team in place of Scott Speed. The promotion also meant that Vettel's participation with Carlin in that year's Formula Renault 3.5 came to an abrupt end, even though he had been leading in that championship at the time.
Vettel finished in the points again only once in his seven outings with Toro Rosso in 2007. And the following season started dreadfully for him: four consecutive retirements. Maybe it had been too much too soon for the youngster after all? But things soon picked up with points won at Monaco and Canada, and again at his home GP at Hockenheim. This time, the final seven races of the season would see him finish in the points all but once: he was growing in confidence fast, even if he still hadn't quite set the F1 world alight as expected.
And then it all changed with the rain-hit 2008 Italian Grand Prix, at which Vettel was able to use the inclement conditions to secure his first pole position - the youngest driver ever to do so at the age of 21 years, 72 days. The next day he became the youngest-ever driver to win an F1 Grand Prix, in what was also the first race win for the team itself.
It couldn't have been better timed, because there was an opening at the senior Red Bull Racing team thanks to David Coulthard having decided to call it a day. But don't be fooled, this wasn't yet the highly sought-after plum seat that it is today: the best that Coulthard and Mark Webber had been able to achieve for the team (founded in 2005 after Mateschitz's buy-out of Jaguar Racing from the Ford Motor Company) was a trio of third place finishes over the course of four years.
With Adrian Newey having also joined the ranks of RBR, that run of midfield mediocrity ended once and for all in the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix: Vettel won the wet race and Webber came in second. Vettel went on to win three more times and finished on the podium in three further races, ultimately claiming second place in that year's driver's championship behind Jenson Button. Not that the runners-up spot was good enough for Vettel or for Red Bull anymore: the following year they clinched their first driver and constructors title double, and they haven't stopped since.
Along the way, some of Vettel's other records have included:
• Youngest driver to secure pole, race win and fastest lap - 2009 British Grand Prix - 21 years, 353 days
• Youngest driver to secure pole, race win, fastest lap and lead every lap - 2011 Indian Grand Prix - 24 years, 119 days.
• Youngest ever F1 world champion - 23 years, 135 days (the previous youngest had been Lewis Hamilton in 2008, aged 23 years, 301 days.)
• Most championship points earned in a season - 392, in 2011
• Most podium finishes in a season - 17, in 2011
• Most starts from front row in a season - 18, in 2011
• Most pole positions in a season - 15, in 2011
• Most laps led in a season - 739, in 2011
With his latest victory clinching the 2013 world championship, Vettel now equals the four titles won by Alain Prost. Only two men have won more championships, with Juan Manuel Fangio having won five times and of course Michael Schumacher ending his career as a seven-time champion. Like Vettel, Fangio had won four of his titles back-to-back, while Schumacher had made it five in a row from 2000 to 2004 - so there is still something for Vettel to aspire to in the record books.
But of all of them, Vettel is the youngest driver to do so at the age of just 26 years, 116 days as he performed those celebratory donuts in India on Sunday. Schumacher by contrast had to wait until he was 32 years, 228 days for his fourth title and Prost to the age of 38 years, 214 days; Fangio was a positively ancient 45 years 70 days when he clinched his fourth.
Vettel has required just 117 races (including 36 wins among 59 podium finishes) to achieve the landmark, whereas poor Mark Webber took 130 GP starts just to claim his first race victory! Along the way Vettel has also claimed 45 pole positions, although this still pales next to the career achievements of Aryton Senna (65) and Michael Schumacher (68).
Several of those early 'youngest-ever' records could fall to the Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin, assuming that he makes his F1 début as planned next year in the first race of the 2014 season. Alternatively, maybe it will be Toro Rosso emulating their past with the introduction of Sirotkin's compatriot Daniil Kvyat that will rewrite the record books once again.
But just to show he's human, Vettel is also attributed one record that he really wouldn't mind someone else taking over: that of the shortest time elapsed in an F1 career before being handed a penalty. Just nine seconds into that first F1 race weekend appearance at Turkey, way back in August 2006, the 19-year-old Vettel was slapped on the wrists for speeding in the pit lane.
Doubtless older, wiser heads tutted at this and decided it surely proved that nothing of any merit would become of the precocious teenager in F1. Nothing at all. Just you wait and see.