Domination in sport is rarely positive. When one person or one team strolls to a championship with little opposition, people switch off and this causes problems. If people aren’t watching, sponsors don’t pay up. The sport becomes less popular and there is a continuous spiral. If you watched the news reports in 2011, you would have seen that Germany’s Sebastian Vettel was seemingly always claiming pole position, before going on to win the next day’s race. It is true that he dominated the season: out of 19 events, he started at the front 15 times – a new record – and finished there on eleven occasions as well.
However, anyone who watched the races would have seen that Formula One in 2011 was sensational. Tyres that wore faster, combined with new gadgets such as a moveable rear wing and KERS – a device that enabled drivers to use energy stored under braking – meant that new records were set in terms of overtaking. Vettel may have won the races, but he was always under pressure and did his utmost to resist it. He made crucial moves when it mattered and mastered his race strategies. He won races that he shouldn’t have done and made just a single mistake all season, when he spun. What’s more remarkable is that the German did this in an era consisting of four other world champions – Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso. The latter is a notoriously fierce competitor, yet Vettel dispatched of the Spaniard in the Italian Grand Prix with a move around the outside, dipping two wheels onto the grass. Vettel looks like a complete Grand Prix driver, which is astounding when you consider the fact that he is still only 24 years old. Jenson Button hadn’t even won a race by that age.
Vettel’s nearest challenger was indeed Jenson Button, the 2009 champion. Button was the victor in the epic Canadian Grand Prix, which ran for over four hours in torrential conditions. Button overtook Vettel on the seventieth and last lap, having been in last place fifteen laps previously. Button also became the first driver to beat Lewis Hamilton over the course of a season. The trials and tribulations of the 2008 champion have been well documented, with issues in his private life spilling out onto the circuit. At his very best Hamilton is unbeatable, as shown by three brilliant victories. However, at his very worst he is petulant as demonstrated by his post-race rant in Monaco in which he embarked on an ill-advised rant against the stewards, a couple of his fellow drivers and threw in a reference to Ali G, which backfired spectacularly.
As ever with sport, there were several controversies. The sport attracted negative comments for continuing to accommodate the Bahrain Grand Prix – which was postponed in March following political unrest in the Gulf state – although the race was eventually cancelled. A row over which team had the right to use the ‘Lotus’ moniker lasted most of the season, with the matter now settled in favour of the team that was formerly Renault.
With money seemingly lying towards the East, India joined the calendar at the end of October. The country welcomed Formula One with open arms, although the event was a sombre occasion following the deaths of Dan Wheldon – I’m sure many will have seen the Hollywood style crash on Youtube – and Marco Simoncelli, the MotoGP rider, the previous weekend. Many drivers knew either Wheldon or Simoncelli and ran tributes to the fallen stars in that race.
Sebastian Vettel eventually wrapped up his second consecutive championship in the Japanese Grand Prix, with four races to spare. It was always going to happen, although he stormed to the championship in the midst of some thrilling races. The tail end of the season was slightly duller, although 2012 promises to be even better than 2011. The United States rejoins the circus after a five year absence and enigmatic Finn Kimi Raikkonen makes a return with Lotus.
Even if one man continues to dominate, which is likely, it is a pleasure to witness a sporting great at his peak, especially one who is so relaxed, approachable and a genuinely good character. And the races aren’t bad either.