The 2022 Formula One season has finally come to an end. It was a record-breaking season, which saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen win an incredible 15 races out of the season’s total of 22 and secure his second World Title. The Dutchman showed domination of another level, which saw him secure his second World Title with four races to go.
Looking at Verstappen cruising to victory almost every weekend, it brings back memories of another Red Bull driver who dominated the entire grid in a similar manner: Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel, a four-time World Champion, was at his peak during 2013, winning 13 races in the season and a stunning nine consecutive races. While his record of 13 wins might have been broken by Verstappen, the German’s nine-wins-in-a-row record is something that will hold for at least one more season.
In this article, we look at two of the sport’s finest drivers at their peak and the similarities between them during the two aforementioned seasons.
The slow start and the whirlwind finish
Before we start comparing Verstappen’s 2022 season with Vettel’s 2013 season, there is just a small thing I’d like to add: heading respectively into the 2022 and 2013 seasons, both drivers were coming in on the back of an extremely tight and closely fought previous season. While Vettel had beaten Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in 2012 by a mere three points, Verstappen got the better of Hamilton by seven points in 2021, which was decided on the final day.
Both drivers didn’t have the best start to the season either. In 2013, it was Kimi Räikkönen taking the win in the season-opener, with Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton also on the top step of the podium in the first half of the season. Vettel had four wins in the opening ten races of the season, and it was only after the summer break that he went on his record nine-wins-in-a-row streak. Verstappen’s 2022 start, on the other hand, was equally slow as he suffered DNFs in two of the opening three races, including the season-opener. What was worse for the Dutchman was that the races he did not finish were won by his title rival, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. After the third race was completed in Australia, Verstappen wasn’t even in the top five in the Drivers’ Standings, and Leclerc was 46 points clear of him.
Both Vettel and Verstappen had a whirlwind finish to the season, however. After slowly building into the season, Vettel wiped the grid clean with his Red Bull after the summer break in 2013, winning all nine remaining races in the season and wrapping up the title with three races to go at the Indian Grand Prix. Similarly, after the summer break in 2022, Verstappen was just untouchable. He won in Belgium after starting P14 and then won in Italy after starting P7. It almost seemed like, no matter which position he started, a Verstappen win was certain. After the summer break, Verstappen won an incredible seven races out of nine and secured his second World Title at the Japanese Grand Prix with four races to go.
Among the various records Verstappen has broken in his career so far, none might be as prestigious as his most-wins-in-a-season record, which he currently holds with 15 wins a single season. The record before Verstappen broke it was 13 wins, which was jointly held by Michael Schumacher (2002) and Sebastian Vettel (2013).
Vettel’s dominance in 2013 was such that that season is regarded as one of the most dominant seasons by a driver in Formula One history. The first half of that season saw Alonso, Hamilton, Räikkönen and Rosberg also take wins, but post the summer break there was absolutely no touching Vettel, who won a record nine races in a row, which is the record for most wins consecutively in a season; he was just in another league. Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix by over 16 seconds from Alonso, the Singapore Grand Prix by 32 seconds from Alonso, the Indian Grand Prix by more than 29 seconds from Rosberg, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by more than 30 seconds from teammate Mark Webber.
There were certain times during the 2022 season where Verstappen looked like Vettel in 2013 — untouchable and in a league of his own. In Hungary, he started P10, while his title rival Leclerc was on the second row; Verstappen fought back to take the win on Sunday and, simply put, was unchallenged. He started from P14 in Belgium, and even that wasn’t enough to hold him back as he cruised to a commanding win, while in Italy he came from P7 on the grid to win ahead of the home favourite and pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen’s wins have also been similar to those of Vettel in the sense of dominance. The Red Bull driver won by over 17 seconds in Belgium, more than 27 seconds in Japan, 20 seconds in Azerbaijan, more than 13 seconds in Spain, and over 16 seconds in Imola.
One is more than enough
Another similarity between Verstappen’s 2022 dominance and Vettel’s 2013 was their one-shot poles. Vettel did it in Singapore in 2013, while Verstappen did it (in a way) at the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix.
In 2013, by the time Formula One got to Singapore, Vettel and Red Bull had dominated the season so much that fans were actually jeering Vettel for his dominance. In Singapore, Vettel was on the pace once again, and after leading the final two Practice sessions, he was in prime position for pole. The only ones who could even throw a challenge to him was the Mercedes’ Rosberg and Hamilton. In the final session of Qualifying (Q3), Vettel took provisional pole on his first flying lap, going six-tenths above Rosberg in second place. His camp in the Red Bull garage decided that was enough for the German to secure pole and decided not to send him out for further laps. The decision proved to be a questionable one, however, as, in their final laps in Q3, Rosberg, Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber and Romain Grosjean were all improving. Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean all went fastest one after the other in the first and second sectors, but none of them could manage to catch Vettel’s first and only time set. Vettel saw himself get pole from the garage with his pit crew and mechanics, which was just the perfect example of his dominance that season — all he needed was ONE lap in qualifying to take pole.
In 2022, by the time the F1 circus reached Belgium, Verstappen had already dominated for more than half the season, and it was only a matter of time before he would be crowned World Champion. Heading into the Spa weekend, Verstappen took an engine penalty, which meant he would be starting from the back of the grid along with eight other drivers. However, despite starting at the back, the Dutchman made sure he finished qualification rather than back out in Q1 or Q2 after a lap or two. Verstappen did put in one lap in Q3 and that was enough. Even though everyone knew he would start at the back no matter what his time would be, Verstappen’s one and only time at Q3 in Spa was better than that of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz’s final lap time, who eventually took pole only because of Verstappen’s penalty. The Dutchman was eight-tenths more than that of eventual pole-sitter Sainz, which was reminiscent of Vettel’s “only one lap to set the fastest time” lap in Singapore, 2013.
Taking in the criticism
After Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix in 2013, when he was on the podium to receive his trophy, a large section of the crowd—mostly Ferrari fans—booed Vettel. It wasn’t the first time that the German was booed that season either; he was jeered during the Canadian and Italian races as well. The extent of the booing was such in Singapore that Vettel’s fellow driver Lewis Hamilton, then team boss Christian Horner and former Ferrari legend Niki Lauda, all condemned the behaviour by the Singapore crowd. Verstappen in 2022 also faced similar heckling and jeering from the crowd. Once again, it was the Ferrari fans who were in the middle of it all. At the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, which he won, Verstappen was booed on the podium by the Tifosi, and like Vettel, he was being booed for similar reasons. The Ferrari fans booing Vettel in 2013 and Verstappen in 2022 were mainly because of the inability of their own team to perform and win. Verstappen was also booed at the US Grand Prix by a large section of the crowd, but like Vettel, he also tends to revel in these kinds of situations. The booing and jeering by the crowds only add fuel to the fire that lies within the champions like Vettel and Verstappen and isn’t something that puts them off. In fact, they use it to drive themselves to more success.
The 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix is probably remembered for the wrong reason. Red Bull’s infamous “Multi-21” is the first thing that comes to mind whenever people talk about the race in Malaysia in 2013.
Vettel was on pole in Malaysia in 2013 and led off the line, but after two early pit-stops, it was his teammate Mark Webber who had the lead of the race. Once Webber made his stop and Vettel made his third one on Lap 33, Webber led from Hamilton, with Vettel behind the Brit. Vettel passed Hamilton on Lap 39 and was chasing down Webber for the lead of the race. Red Bull, though, on Lap 45, asked Vettel to hold position and not attack Webber. Vettel, though, didn’t pay much attention to the team orders and attacked Webber on Lap 46. Vettel pushed Webber wide and zoomed into the lead, much to the surprise of his teammate, who was told Vettel would hold position. Vettel eventually won the race, and it was revealed later by team boss Christian Horner that Vettel ignored team orders to get back at Webber for pushing Vettel into the pit wall at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012, which was the Championship-deciding race, and had Vettel not performed a stunning comeback, he might not have won the title that year.
The episode was just a small insight into the mind of Vettel — a ruthless champion, and similar shades were seen in Verstappen at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2022. By the time racing reached Brazil in 2022, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second World Championship, while Red Bull had also been crowned as the Constructors’ Champions for a fifth time.
Although Red Bull were the quickest car almost every weekend in 2022, the Brazilian weekend was an anomaly for the Austrian team. They were just not on the pace, and it was Mercedes who were the quickest all weekend. While George Russell started first after taking the Sprint win, Verstappen was fourth, but after early contact with Lewis Hamilton in the race and an unnecessary time-penalty, Verstappen dropped to the back of the grid. His teammate Sergio Pérez, meanwhile, was in the top five, fighting for the podium places. While Verstappen charged back through the field and was up to seventh, Pérez was struggling to keep up with the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers. Right at the end of the Grand Prix, Verstappen passed Pérez for sixth position, even though his team asked him to let the Mexican pass by. Pérez was left quite frustrated and made it clear to his team, while Verstappen stated he had his reasons. The reason Pérez was left more frustrated was because he was involved in a tight second-place battle in the Constructors’ Championship with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and both him and Leclerc both left Brazil on the same points. Verstappen, in his post-race interview, stated that he didn’t give back the position to Pérez because of a “previous incident” in the season. This incident, although not confirmed by Red Bull or Verstappen, was the Monaco Grand Prix 2022 qualifying session, where Pérez took provisional pole and then crashed, seemingly deliberately, to deny pole to his teammate. Verstappen obviously didn’t take it well and didn’t forget about it either. When asked whether it was payback for the Monaco incident, Verstappen smiled and said, “You can decide that. I’m not going to say.”
These two incidents showcase exactly why Vettel and Verstappen are multiple World Champions and two of the greatest the sport has ever witnessed. In order to be the best, especially in a sport like Formula One, you have to be ruthless, and both Vettel and Verstappen have that mentality, which sets them apart from the rest.
One final point of similarity between the respective dominances of Verstappen and Vettel is not quite on the mark, but I’ll add it nonetheless: Verstappen in 2022 secured his second title in Japan, the venue where 11 drivers had previously been crowned as World Champions. The last driver to be crowned Champion in Japan before Verstappen? None other than Sebastian Vettel himself. While it was not in 2013, it was his other dominating title win year of 2011.
Another similar storyline in Vettel and Verstappen’s title charges is the fact that both of them won their first World Drivers’ Championship in Abu Dhabi and the second one in Suzuka. While Vettel won his third title in Brazil, it remains to be seen if Verstappen can wrap up a third title in Brazil next year.
People will debate about who Red Bull’s greatest champion is, and while that question doesn’t have a straightforward correct answer, we should nevertheless appreciate the fact that Formula One has seen two of its finest drivers show their class in similar manner through their domination and cement their names in the history of the sport. It was Vettel yesterday, it is Verstappen today, and it will be someone else tomorrow; that’s the nature of the sport. We just need to appreciate and acknowledge their brilliance.