Recently-crowned F1 2010 World Champion Sebastian Vettel was 'quite exceptional' this season, contends Alain Prost, as the Frenchman tipped the Red Bull Racing star to go on to equal or better his own four titles in the top flight in years to come – and to 'see things differently' now in the light of what he has achieved.
Very much an outsider heading into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale earlier this month, Vettel successfully overturned the odds in the Middle East by producing a peerless performance that yielded race day victory and – allied to the struggles of principal rivals Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber – with it the drivers' world championship laurels.
There were, however, a number of controversial incidents along the way that the 23-year-old German will doubtless not look back upon as his proudest moments, with his behaviour in the wake of his calamitous Turkish Grand Prix collision with RBR team-mate Webber chief amongst them. Prost – who prevailed in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993 – suggests the 2011-style Sebastian Vettel will be a different and altogether 'stronger' model.
“I think so,” the 55-year-old reflected, when asked at the Race of Champions at the weekend if the new youngest-ever F1 World Champion will prove capable of going on to match his own accomplishments in the sport. “He was quite exceptional, and now he's got a title, he's going to see things differently and he's going to be a bit quieter sometimes. In different races, maybe he'll get some more points. I think he's going to be even stronger now.”
Sports marketing guru Marcel Cordes from Sport+Markt believes Vettel could cash in handsomely on his success this season as he is naturally attractive to sponsors, but cautions that he needs to craft an image of his own rather than hiding behind that of the Red Bull brand. Should he do so, the ten-time grand prix-winner could earn as much as €2-5 million per year from endorsements, albeit still some way short of the likes of Tiger Woods or Roger Federer.
“Sebastian Vettel is the youngest world champion, and apart from the title he also comes across as a very pleasant person,” Cordes told the German Press Agency
. “That is very exciting for a company, but he still lacks in contour.”
Meanwhile, Prost paused to offer his thoughts on Vettel's compatriot Michael Schumacher, and the record-breaking F1 legend's distinctly mixed comeback campaign with Mercedes Grand Prix in 2010 – arguing that the 41-year-old has been unjustly criticised for a gritty effort in the face of adversity.
“I was not expecting better, because I know it's difficult to come back after three years stopped,” underlined the man who took a sabbatical from the sport himself in 1992, before returning the following year to claim his final career crown. “What he has done is already very good – almost exceptional – so wait and see.
“The target to be world champion was really impossible, also because the team and the car were not at the same level as Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari. It's a very, very difficult challenge, but that's part of life – sometimes you need to take a challenge that seems unbelievable. I think only he could have done it, but maybe the target was a little bit too high.”