Champion vs Champion – Hamilton vs Vettel

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have 9 World Titles between them, 5 for Hamilton/4 for Vettel. Which season was their best? Pole Positions, Podiums and Race Wins explained.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both came into F1 in quite contrasting circumstances. Hamilton arrived in 2007, He was McLaren’s poster boy, the GP2 golden child. Vettel’s debut in 2007 only came as a stand in for the injured Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber. Lewis won his 2nd Grand Prix at Indy and Vettel came home 7th on his debut. I don’t think that many people back in 2007 would think that the two would have a combined 124 wins, 243 podiums, 137 pole positions and 76 fastest laps between them. But which of their championship winning seasons is their best? Stats only tell one side of the story, it wouldn’t be fair to completely judge this entirely off stats. That is why Vettel’s 2013 season vs Hamilton’s 2014 season would be unfair to compare it to their seasons in 2012 or 2008. Each Championship season is different.

 

Championship #1 – Hamilton 2008 vs Vettel 2010

The expectation levels for both drivers in their first championship winning seasons were very comparable. Hamilton came off arguably the greatest rookie season F1 had ever seen. His rivalry with McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso in 2007 was exactly what the sport needed. The Briton’s heart-breaking final 2 races in China and Brazil which seen a retirement in the pitlane entrance and then a mechanical shut down in the final round, which gave Kimi Raikkonen his 1st World Title. Beating Hamilton by 1 point.

Vettel’s runners up spot in 2009, his first season at Red Bull. Is what he describes as probably “the worst one and the lowest point”. Red Bull’s rapidly fast developing car in the 2nd half of 2009 couldn’t claw back the huge amount of points that Brawn GP and Jenson Button had built up. Vettel was quoted during the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend saying: “You never know what the next year brings so you never know whether you get another chance.”

Firstly, let’s look at the stats for both in their 1st title successes –

The race that defined their seasons was a tough decision as both in 2008 and 2010, showed raw pace when needed. For Hamilton, the 2008 British Grand Prix was and still is the most defining race of his career. He won the race by over a minute and lapped every driver up until 3rd place, not to mention it was torrential rain throughout the 60-lap race. Even Hamilton himself said that 2008 was the moment he realised how much the British fans loved him. A true wet weather masterclass.

Ironically, Vettel’s season defining race in 2010 was the one that won him the title. The final round in Abu Dhabi was billed as Alonso vs Webber for the title. Vettel needed a big slice of luck to win his maiden crown and knew that he had to win the race to even stand a chance. Surely Alonso and Webber weren’t going to throw this away… This race is down to one man, Vitaly Petrov. His tenacious defence to keep Fernando Alonso in P7 and to hand Vettel his first championship was superb. But Sebastian simply did his job. That is the one thing that I have always loved about Vettel, especially in his Red Bull days. He always came up clutch with the lap or race when he needed it. He became the Youngest Ever F1 World Champion, taking the record from Hamilton.

IS THAT GLOCK? Lewis Hamilton’s dramatic last lap title win at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix will always live in the memory of every F1 fan that witnessed it. After all, he can almost thank Vettel for costing him a 2nd lost title in 2 years in Brazil… I don’t have words to describe how mad this race was, just go on YouTube and watch it if you haven’t. Drama from lap 1 to the finish.

Verdict –  This was the toughest decision to call as both had excellent seasons on their way to becoming World Champion for the 1sttime. I think that Hamilton showed consistency in better ways that Vettel did. But Vettel’s raw pace in the RB6 especially at the start of races set him apart from the rest. 1-0 to Vettel.

 

Championship #2 – Hamilton 2014 vs Vettel 2011

Dominance. When it comes to the record books, the RB7 and the W05 are two of the greatest cars that have been created. Vettel’s solo domination in 2011 allowed him to wrap up the title in Suzuka. Hamilton’s dominance was different. It was the car, him and team Nico Rosberg fought back and forth all throughout 2014. As Mercedes built a V6 monster that won 16 out of the 19 races in 2014. Hamilton claiming 11 of those wins. Eventually wrapping the title up in the final round in Abu Dhabi. When looking at the stats for these two seasons. They are virtually identical except for the number of poles that Vettel had compared to Hamilton.

The race that defined 2011 for Sebastian Vettel was the Indian Grand Prix. A new circuit for the 2011 calendar, Vettel’s blistering pole lap was largely down his commitment to learning the new Pirelli tyres for 2011. In fact, each of the 15 poles can be attributed to this. He was the only driver that went to the Pirelli factory before the start of the season, to ask and learn how the new rubber would change and adapt throughout a race and reportedly studied Pirelli’s 2010 end of season tyre test data, so that he got a clear indication of the drop off points for the tracks that they had tested at. In India, he led every single lap, fastest lap and of course the win, the complete boxset. Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 summed up in a nutshell.

Lewis Hamilton’s 2014 season had it all. Drama, tension and emotion. It had been 6 years since his first world title win, this was his best chance and he knew it. Races like Bahrain were he and Rosberg battled wheel to wheel in the desert. Races like Silverstone, Japan were we witnessed one of the greatest overtakes in F1 history as Lewis passed Nico around the outside of turn 1 in the pouring rain. But his defining race in 2014 has to be Budapest.

A fiery end to qualifying for Lewis’ W05 saw him having to start from the pitlane as teammate Rosberg started from pole. It nearly went from bad to worse as on lap 1, Hamilton span and touched the barrier at turn 2. It was a strange race, a race that really through up a lot of significance in how the rest of 2014 was to play out. A few safety car’s later and somehow both Mercedes end up racing each other on track. Both were in pursuit of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, Hamilton’s instruction was to let Rosberg past because he was on fresher rubber. “Why is he not letting me through?” “He’s had the message Nico” “I am not slowing down for Nico” “If he gets close to overtake me he can overtake”.

The defiance and the will to win was the difference between Lewis Hamilton in 2014 compared to 2010-2012 at McLaren was key to see. He eventually finished 3rdin Budapest behind Alonso and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. But crucially, from the back of the grid. He had gained points on Rosberg in the World Championship.

Verdict – Vettel’s best season for Red Bull is either 2011 or 2013. He clearly beat teammate Mark Webber during their time together. But there was just something about 2014 that made it special for Lewis Hamilton. The desire was back, it had got lost during his later years at McLaren. His surges through the field in 2014 were a great sight to watch, yes, the car was utterly dominant. But Lewis Hamilton earned his way back to the top of F1 in 2014. 1-1

 

Championship #3 – Hamilton 2015 vs Vettel 2012

Vettel’s most difficult? Hamilton’s easiest? 2012 and 2015 are different for various reasons. F1 in 2012 brought something that hadn’t been since the 1970’s/1980’s, unpredictability. The first 7 races where won by 7 different drivers, a record that still stands today. Red Bull took a different approach. It was assumed because their dominance in 2011, that they would be focussing ahead for 2012 after they had wrapped up the constructors/drivers title. This wasn’t the case, Vettel took the approach of minimising the damage during the first half of the season. Yes, he still won races but the competitiveness of the Red Bull at each track varied.  This season, we since the best from the German from the aspect that he was maximising himself and maximising the car to get the best result come Sunday afternoon.

2015 for Hamilton brought a surge of momentum and the opportunity of continuing Mercedes dominance in the V6 Hybrid era.  The nearest challenger to the 2014 car was the Red Bull, even then it was around tracks that you would expect them to be competitive. Ferrari emerged as the next best thing to a Mercedes as their car focused on being the well-rounded package out of the field, Mercedes strength being engine power that simply was on another level.

At times in 2015, Lewis Hamilton was untouchable, it had seemed that the gap between him and teammate Nico Rosberg had widened even more. It was indeed Hammer time, a new and improved Hamilton delivered frightening consistency as he finished on the podium 17 out of the 19 races. He won his third world title in Austin and equalled his hero’s tally of titles, Ayrton Senna. “That’s greatest moment of my life” was the radio message from Hamilton to his race engineer Bono. Back to Back titles shows it wasn’t a one off and that almost shut the critics up that ever doubted Lewis.

LH’s best race of 2015? Silverstone. It perfectly demonstrated his decision making in variable weather conditions. Rosberg was rapidly catch Lewis on an ever-changing track, Hamilton boxed for intermediate tyres with only a handful of laps to go. At the time it didn’t seem like the best call as the majority of the circuit wasn’t wet enough. But he judged it to perfection, by the time Rosberg had come upon Stowe corner a lap later, the track was covered in rain. Hamilton reclaimed the lead with ease and took his 3rdhome victory. He simply out smarted the rest.

Vettel’s 2012 season can be described in one race. The highs and lows of becoming a World Champion can change in a split second, doesn’t the German know it. Qualifying 4th, Vettel just needed to defend his 13-point led from Fernando Alonso, who qualified in 8th. Here is a brief summary (Because this race was just crazy) –

  • Vettel gets spun around at turn 4 by Bruno Senna.
  • His Car has severe left sidepod damage.
  • He charges through the field while Alonso moves up into 2ndplace after Hamilton and Hulkenberg retired battling for the lead.
  • It then starts to rain and now Alonso is leading the world championship.
  • Vettel loses his team radio and hasn’t got a clue about his championship standing.
  • Vettel took sixth position from Michael Schumacher which proved sufficient to retain the title even with Alonso finishing second.
  • He becomes a 3 time World Champion with a 6thplace finish as the race finishes under the safety car due to a crash from Paul Di Resta.

Verdict – Keeping it simple, Vettel’s 2012 season was excellent, he got the best out of his car and never gave up when it got tough. Hamilton’s 2015 was exactly what the doctor ordered, continuing on from 2014. Vettel gets the nod on this occasion. 2-1 to Vettel.

Championship #4 – Hamilton 2017 vs Vettel 2013

4 in a row for Vettel in 2013 and it was 3 championships out of 4 seasons for Hamilton. Vettel’s 2013 is best compared to his 2011 winning season. The stats certainly suggest that, he has the record of winning 9 races in a row (Belgium – Brazil). It was the end of the V8 era and Red Bull ended it with a bang. The car was absolutely on rails, each track that the RB9 visited, it instantly adapted. There isn’t much to say about Vettel in 2013, he copped a lot of hate for winning and making F1 ‘Boring’. It didn’t help with happened in Malaysia with Webber as he ignored the now famous ‘Multi 21’ call, to overtake Webber and win. But most of the boos after races when he stood on the top of podium were uncalled for. He duly won his 4th World Title in a row at the circuit he dominated at in 2011, India.

A new look 2017 for F1 was exactly what was need to shake up the pack in the V6 era. The cars where much faster, more downforce, wider tyres and also it brought the Title fight the sport had craved. Lewis Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel. Vettel in 2016 was off the boil, many expected Ferrari to challenge Mercedes in 2016. It never materialised. Hamilton was plagued with bad starts and unfortunate engine failures. He narrowly lost the title to Nico Rosberg, who decided to retire after his title win.

2017 didn’t just deliver great racing, it brought drama. Singapore, Belgium, Catalunya and Baku to name a few. Mercedes and Ferrari traded blows throughout the season and their drivers certainly did that. It was close but when looking at the final standings it doesn’t suggest that. Vettel was in the box seat until we had reached Singapore, you know the rest… Hamilton showed again like 2014, consistency. This was the first time in the V6 era that Mercedes crown for top dog was threatened, a particular strength was Hamilton’s race craft. Vettel’s poor end to the season obviously helped Lewis win the title in 2017 but ultimately it was won when the two battled on track. Catalunya and Belgium proved pivotal by the time he wrapped the title up in Mexico last year.

Vettel’s Best race in 2013 – Malaysia. He proved he wanted it more, even though he pissed off his teammate in the process.

Hamilton’s Best race of 2017 – Belgium. He and Vettel were with each other the whole race and each lap was on the limit. If you haven’t seen this race, definitely give it a watch!

Verdict – When looking at Hamilton vs Vettel in these respective seasons, both very different. But Hamilton’s ability in wheel to wheel racing was tremendous, mainly down to his Karting days on which he is always praising for his ability to fight so closely in F1 now. 2-2, they can’t be separated… for now.

Stay tuned for the 2018 Championship Analysis coming soon!

By Jordan Moreland

@jmoreland04



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