Sebastian Vettel could turn out to be 'the best driver ever in F1', reckons David Coulthard – the man whose retirement at the end of 2008 made way for the young German at Red Bull Racing – but he won't replicate compatriot Michael Schumacher in dominating the sport for years on end.
Even prior to last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, Vettel was well on his way to clinching a second consecutive drivers' world championship crown in the top flight, and his Spa-Francorchamps victory – his seventh from just twelve starts this season, and in a race that Red Bull hadn't truly been expected to win – has carried the 24-year-old a commanding 92 points clear of any of his rivals in the title standings.
It is a higher score than he amassed in total en route
to the laurels last year, and some would say an unassailable margin for any of his pursuers to overcome with only seven grands prix remaining and 175 points now left up for grabs.
Coulthard, indeed, contends that Vettel's outstanding success in 2011 to-date 'has almost certainly assured him of a second successive world title' as 'he continues to sweep all before him' – but the BBC F1
commentator does confess to being perplexed that 'there are still those who question Seb's driving...as if he is simply fortunate to have found himself in a Red Bull, as if he is an average racing driver because he wins races from pole'.
“I think we could well be witnessing the development of the best driver ever in F1,” the Scot wrote in his regular column for The Daily Telegraph
. “We can't say yet, of course – only history will judge that – but the fact that Seb continues to improve every aspect of his game, from racecraft to tyre management, building on his natural speed, is indisputable. This has nothing to do with Red Bull or my association with the team. This has everything to do with the way Seb has stepped up his game this year.
“I don't think the standard in F1 has ever been higher than it is now. Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Mark Webber – these guys are world-class. Michael Schumacher has come back and has discovered that first-hand. Seb is simply outperforming everyone.”
Schumacher is the only previous German to have taken F1 by storm, with a record-breaking seven world championship trophies between 1994 and 2004 as he and Ferrari embarked upon an era of absolute supremacy. Vettel has been compared to his elder countryman on many an occasion – much to his chagrin – but Coulthard reasons that history is unlikely to repeat itself given the current state of competitiveness in the sport.
“People are asking whether we are about to see another period of dominance à la
Schumacher,” the 40-year-old mused. “I don't think so. Michael was driving a car which never broke down, a car superior to those of his rivals, with unlimited testing and the biggest budget in F1.
“Ferrari and McLaren have the resources and personnel to catch Red Bull, and in fact they have done so; their race pace has been as good as Red Bull's for months now. McLaren probably had the quickest car in Belgium at the weekend – they just didn't get the job done. Seb got it done.