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With four titles under his belt, 32-year-old Sebastian Vettel was only overtaken by Lewis Hamilton in 2018 when it comes to most won titles on the current grid. Until the 2018 season they both had four, with all four of Sebastian Vettel’s coming with the same team. Since his move to Ferrari, he has yet to win a championship. Will 2020 be the year when it happens for the German, or will Vettel crack under the pressure of Charles Leclerc?
At an early age, the Heppenheimer Sebastian Vettel already appeared on Red Bull's radar. At the time, it should be noted, the Bulls’ junior program did not necessarily lead to Formula 1 as it does now, but it did make the route to the top easier. Vettel was snapped up in 2001, after which the road towards the pinnacle of motorsport began.
During his incredibly impressive youth career, Vettel already got the chance to work as a test driver at BMW Sauber in 2006. At 19 years old, he became the youngest driver ever to participate in a Grand Prix weekend in FP2 ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix. Not only did Vettel set the fastest time of that session, he also got a fine for speeding in the pit lane when he first pulled out of the garage, just 10 seconds into his F1 career. This bizarre record is unlikely to ever be broken!
His Grand Prix debut came unexpectedly after Robert Kubica was involved in a major crash in Canada. Vettel manned the BMW during the race weekend in Austin and even scored points. Vettel set another record: The youngest driver ever to take points in a Grand Prix. This record and that of the youngest driver in a race weekend, were both taken away from Seb years later by Max Verstappen.
Turning heads at Toro Rosso
Still under contract as Red Bull-junior, Vettel moved to Toro Rosso in 2007, the development team of Red Bull Racing. The STR2 was far from being the best car on the grid, but Sebastian Vettel still managed to impress. In China, the German took his only points finish with Toro Rosso that season, but it was an excellent result: P4. One year later Vettel would continue that trend as he picked up no less than 35 points during the season.
In Italy, one of the biggest shocks in modern F1 history happened as Vettel took pole position at a soaking wet Monza and drove to victory a day later. Vettel’s record of being the youngest pole sitter ever still stands to this day. 2008 also remains the only year in which Toro Rosso beat Red Bull Racing in the championship: Vettel scored more points by himself in the STR3 than David Coulthard and Mark Webber did combined for Red Bull!
Red Bull Racing era
Vettel’s string of great results did not go unnoticed by Red Bull, as Helmut Marko allowed his young protégé to move on to the main team; David Coulthard retired, allowing Vettel to prove himself in a top car. In 2009, Brawn GP proved too strong for Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel, but one year later Vettel had the car underneath him to properly go for a title, and he did exactly that.
Between 2010 and 2013, Vettel won the championship four times in a row as well as all four constructors' titles, although two of the four weren’t decided until the very last race. In 2013 for Red Bull Racing, however, the German strung no less than nine GP victories together (a record winning streak which still stands) and Seb was on the top step of the podium 13 times that year in 18 races. One of the most dominant years of all time.
The introduction of new engine regulations in Formula 1 was accompanied by a significant decline in 2014 for Red Bull and therefore also for the Heppenheimer. No longer was the fizzy drinks manufacturer's team the dominant constructor: that baton was taken over by the Mercedes works team. After a winless season alongside youngster Daniel Ricciardo, who won three races, Red Bull announced the departure of Sebastian Vettel at the end of 2014: he went to Ferrari in search of more titles.
Waiting time at Ferrari
Vettel replaced Fernando Alonso, who (not for the first time) seemed to have made the wrong career choice as he moved to McLaren. Next to Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel had a decent first season at Ferrari.
He bagged three victories and series of podiums but simply didn’t nearly have a quick enough car to challenge the dominant Mercedes. Sebastian had to settle for P3 in the standings, and it didn’t get much better the year after as he had his second winless season in three years, ending the year in P4 (behind former teammate Ricciardo).
The four-time world champion returned to winning ways in 2017, however, as the Ferrari SF70H seemed to be able to really compete with Mercedes. The Italian team got off to a good start but couldn’t keep up with Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton as the year progressed. The same happened in 2018, although the German partially threw away the championship himself as well. The most pivotal moment was when into the wall behind the safety car in his home race at Hockenheim when comfortably being in the lead.
After 2018, Ferrari realised they couldn’t solely expect Vettel to single-handedly take on Mercedes anymore. Young talent Leclerc was brought in, which turned out to be a success. Not Vettel, but Leclerc led the line with several victories and pole positions for the team as he outscored his more experienced teammate during the year. The icing on the cake for Leclerc came as he got a long-term contract at Ferrari until 2024, in contrast of Vettel, whose deal expires at the end of 2020.
Sebastian Vettel in 2020
2020 will be a pivotal year for the four-time world champion in 2020. Will the Ferrari driver be able to retaliate one more time or will he admit defeat to the younger generation? At Red Bull, Vettel fled from the fight with Ricciardo, but running away now doesn't seem to be an option for the German. If Vettel doesn't turn out to be the leader of Ferrari in 2020, it remains to be seen whether the Heppenheimer himself would want to continue in Formula 1 at all. If so, the question is: what team does he go to?
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