Autosport writers' favourite Sebastian Vettel F1 drives

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel will retire from Formula 1 after this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, bringing down the curtain on a grand prix CV packed with top-drawer performances.

Autosport writers' favourite Sebastian Vettel F1 drives

Citing a desire to spend more time with family, Aston Martin racer Vettel will bring to a conclusion an F1 career that began with BMW-Sauber in 2007 before taking in spells at Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Ferrari.

The German's 53 wins make him the third most successful driver in F1 history by that metric, and means there are plenty of options for Autosport's team of writers to pick from when assessing his best drives.

Autosport compiled a list of Vettel's greatest wins in 2020, but this list is made up of Autosport journalists' favourite Vettel moments.

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Monza 2008, The start of Vettel's legend - James Newbold

Vettel controlled the 2008 Italian GP from the front to score his and the Toro Rosso team's first win

Vettel controlled the 2008 Italian GP from the front to score his and the Toro Rosso team's first win

Photo by: Sutton Images

The 2008 Italian Grand Prix was the genesis that started the Vettel legend, as Autosport's front cover proclaimed 'Wonderkid'. Whatever he'd do for the rest of his career, he was the first driver to score a win for the underdog team formerly known as Minardi, which had been more accustomed to propping up the grid in previous years.

The Faenza outfit had been bought out by Dietrich Mateschitz and turned into the Red Bull junior team, Toro Rosso, for 2006, but achieved little by way of results before Vettel was brought in to replace Scott Speed midway through the 2007 season. He was running a remarkable third at Fuji in the wet before tangling with Red Bull stablemate Mark Webber, then at the Chinese Grand Prix finished an excellent fourth - equalling the best-ever finish by Minardi.

But at Monza the following year, Vettel took the team to new heights. On a sodden track in qualifying, Vettel breezed to his first career pole and executed his two-stop strategy flawlessly in the race to become F1's youngest-ever winner with what team boss Franz Tost called "a perfect drive from start to finish".

It was, Autosport's report reflected, "a case study in wet-weather brilliance" as he benefitted from a clear road to drive off into the distance and win by 12.5 seconds from Heikki Kovalainen. Alas it was not a grand slam, as he set only the 14th-quickest race lap. This though, was a sign of his maturity.

"Almost all of the fastest laps came on the last lap when the track was at its driest - and when he didn't need to be any quicker than he was," surmised Autosport.

The bulk of his winning was done with Red Bull, but it was in a humble Toro Rosso that Vettel surely produced his greatest F1 feat.

Abu Dhabi 2010, Clinching world title number one - Matt Kew

Vettel avoided getting sucked into covering rivals, as Alonso did, and drove serenely to victory and a first world title at Abu Dhabi in 2010

Vettel avoided getting sucked into covering rivals, as Alonso did, and drove serenely to victory and a first world title at Abu Dhabi in 2010

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

The fragility of the Red Bull RB6, undoubtably the star car at the start of the new decade, was resolved following its early season expirations. And after infamously colliding with team-mate Webber in Turkey and spinning with Jenson Button at Spa, Vettel would barely put a foot wrong for the remainder of the campaign. So, come Abu Dhabi, the way was paved for the best driver and machine combination of 2010 to win a classic championship.

Fernando Alonso led the standings heading into the weekend. But Red Bull's laissez-faire attitude in the previous race at Interlagos meant there were no team orders to stop Vettel triumphing over Webber, who had more points. That meant the Scuderia had to attempt to strategically cover off two cars rather than one in the final race of the season.

Alonso was geared to cover off the Australian primarily, however, and that first allowed Vettel to streak to a beautiful pole position. He found instant grip on the Bridgestones in the twilight session to buzz over the line 0.03s ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Even then, the focus was still on Webber-Alonso tussle and Vettel, then 23, reckoned he was paying zero attention to points permutations as the race got underway.

Of course, the title showdown is better remembered for Alonso’s frustrating afternoon stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov. But Vettel had avoided such toils by beautifully managing his softer option tyres while maintaining sound enough race pace to avoid a strategy blunder by being released into traffic. In other words, precisely what cost Alonso.

He’d also aggressively shut the door on Hamilton into Turn 1 to hold position and, after an early safety car, could distance the McLaren by a couple of seconds. He would cross the line to take his fifth win of the year - equal top with Alonso - by 10s.

Make no mistake, the race was tense but hardly an exciting bout. Certainly, no Brazil 2012 affair. But Vettel aced it to land his first title crown and become, at the time, Formula 1’s youngest-ever world champion.

Monza 2011, Winning with a famous pass - Alex Kalinauckas

Vettel quashed suggestions that he wasn't an overtaker with a bold move on Alonso at Monza in 2011

Vettel quashed suggestions that he wasn't an overtaker with a bold move on Alonso at Monza in 2011

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Red Bull is now F1’s straight-line speed top-dog. But, back in 2011, what was by then a crack squad had an Achilles heel.

There was an extra consideration for the 2011 Italian Grand Prix, which must go down as one of Sebastian Vettel’s finest F1 victories. That was the addition of DRS, which meant the quickest teams could afford to pack on downforce, dump it in qualifying with the rear wing open, then shoot clear in the race utilising a much shorter top gear than normal.

McLaren, armed with its potent Mercedes power, was running massive rear wings on the cars driven by Hamilton and Button. Vettel’s Red Bull had a lower-drag arrangement – to make up its then-typical power deficit. But this was still more than the wing levels on the Mercedes cars – then so far from the front pace-wise the Silver Arrows had to run the typical skinny-rear wing and long gear ratios. When running in the pack with DRS at Monza, it was estimated all that could close the near one-second ultimate pace difference to Vettel and the McLarens.

Vettel had produced a mighty lap to take pole ahead of Hamilton and Button, but the shape of the race changed immediately when the lights went out. This was because Fernando Alonso produced a simply amazing start to roar from fourth to the lead – kicking up dust getting around Hamilton and Vettel as he skirted with the grass lining the track edge.

This may have contributed to Kamui Kobayashi braking early and the apparently caught-out Tonio Liuzzi going on to wipe out Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg. That inevitably meant a safety car, after which Alonso’s tactics to drop back early ahead of the restart and attack from Ascari led to Hamilton being caught napping watching the chasing Michael Schumacher, who jumped the McLaren to get his Mercedes into third.

One of the reasons why this race stands out is how one seven-time world champion ruthlessly denied a future one for 24 gripping laps – either side of their first pitstops. Schumacher’s defence was on the line for most of it and over it once, with the slow-starting Button jumping him after a particularly aggressive defensive move from the German had cost Hamilton momentum. He eventually got by, with memories of their fight being recalled when Hamilton battled Mick Schumacher in Austria earlier this month.

The other piece of brilliance from this race was Vettel’s pass to retake the lead from Alonso. Having been called off his lap one resurgence by the safety car, Vettel was all over the Ferrari after the restart. After a move to the inside of the della Roggia chicane didn’t come off, Vettel’s subsequent run to the outside of Curva Grande should be the stuff of legend.

He kept on to the Ferrari’s left even as Alonso’s determined defence meant the Red Bull had two wheels on the grass. Vettel’s short gearing actually helped his acceleration without DRS and he shot ahead running down to the chicane – moving into a lead he converted into a dominant victory over Button and Alonso. What was viewed at the time as a Hamilton head-drop meant he had to be encouraged into chasing down Alonso and he ended up running out of laps.

But the best thing about this race was that it blew away the bizarre regular suggestion from back then that Vettel couldn’t overtake. Yes, there were early-career slips such as spearing into Button at Spa 2010 and he would go on to make an awful habit of spinning the heavier, downforce dependent cars of his later career years. But the reputation during his championship-winning era was underserved.

As Autosport’s report from Monza stated: “That 200mph, seventh-gear pass of Alonso with two wheels on the grass, don't ever let's hear any more of that guff about him not being an overtaker.”

Interlagos 2012, An eventful race to secure a third title - Charles Bradley

Vettel secured his third title in dramatic circumstances at Interlagos in 2012

Vettel secured his third title in dramatic circumstances at Interlagos in 2012

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Vettel scored no sweeter sixth position in his F1 career than when he became the youngest three-time world champion for Red Bull, after surviving an opening lap crash in a crazy 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.

He entered the final race of a thrilling season defending a 13-point lead over Ferrari’s Alonso, so he’d have to finish fourth if his Ferrari rival won.

The McLarens of Hamilton (in his last race for the team) and Button dominated the weekend, with Hamilton taking pole. Vettel was fourth on the grid, with Alonso down in eighth.

It didn’t take long for things to get wild: Vettel made a poor start and was very timid around the opening corners, getting boxed on the inside of the Senna S, as Alonso vaulted around the outside and up to fifth.

With spots of rain falling, Vettel’s race got even worse as he spun at Turn 4, Descida do Lago, after turning in on Bruno Senna, whose Williams struck him again amidships. Suddenly, Vettel was facing the pack and rolling backwards down the hill!

Although he quickly rejoined, his exhaust was creased – the team was worried it might fail completely, so turned down his engine map.

As the McLarens pulled away out front, Alonso was able to pass team-mate Felipe Massa and Webber’s Red Bull at Turn 1 for third. Alonso was in position to take the title.

A few laps later, it swung back the other way. Alonso outbraked himself at the Senna S and allowed Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India past. Vettel quickly worked his way into the top eight to run where he needed to be at the time.

Hulkenberg battled into the lead but threw it away with a half-spin. Then, as he re-attacked Hamilton at the Senna S, he took them both out. Alonso was now back in the podium places, and he finished second behind Button in a race that ended under the safety car after Paul di Resta crashed heavily.

Despite a long pitstop for intermediate tyres, as the team wasn’t ready because his radio wasn’t working, Vettel took sixth place from Schumacher – in the seven-time champion’s final grand prix – which was enough to clinch the title by three points.

The elder statesman was one of the first to congratulate a relieved Vettel in parc ferme, as Alonso glared furiously into the middle distance.

Sepang 2013, Defying team orders – Lewis Duncan

Vettel's 2013 Malaysia victory showed a ruthless streak in the then three-time champion

Vettel's 2013 Malaysia victory showed a ruthless streak in the then three-time champion

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

In this modern era of the ultra-venomous Red Bull/Mercedes rivalry that dominated the 2021 F1 campaign, it’s easy to forget a civil war raged at Red Bull just a decade ago instigated by another of its shining stars.

Vettel and Webber had a frosty relationship at Red Bull which largely stemmed from the team making clear its position on who the number one driver was. But at Sepang in 2013, round two of that year’s world championship, that rivalry reached its peak.

Webber took the lead after the first round of stops, prompting a restless Vettel to tell his team: “Mark is too slow, get him out of the way”. Come the final round of pitstops, Webber continued to lead – and that was the way it was meant to remain.

But Vettel, who was on the faster Option tyre against Webber on Prime tyres, took matters into his own hands. Launching an attack on Webber late on into the first corner, he was repelled. But team boss Christian Horner had already been on the radio telling him his efforts were “silly” after he’d already been given the famous ‘Multi-21’ call to remain behind Webber.

Vettel continued his charge down to Sepang’s Turn 4, and carved into the lead on the outside. He would take the chequered flag in front, before later being forced to explain his actions to the media – bizarrely claiming what he did was not intentional.

Why this brazen ignoring of team orders is noteworthy is because it was Vettel showing the ruthlessness that a world champion must possess. He later admitted this was payback for Webber ignoring a similar team order in Brazil the year before, when Vettel was trying to win his third world title.

Webber would never win again in F1 and he departed for the World Endurance Championship with Porsche at the end of the year. Vettel dominated the 2013 campaign for his fourth championship.

Singapore 2013, Total domination - Luke Smith

Vettel was comfortably the class of the field at the 2013 Singapore GP, steamrolling his opposition to win by 32.6 seconds

Vettel was comfortably the class of the field at the 2013 Singapore GP, steamrolling his opposition to win by 32.6 seconds

Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

Picking a race Vettel led lights-to-flag and finished over half a minute clear of the field may seem like an odd one to pick as my favourite. But to me, this was Sebastian Vettel in his absolute prime, showing to the rest of the world that through the back half of the 2013 season, there was absolutely nobody in F1 operating on the same level.

Vettel had already sat out the final Q3 runs on Saturday at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, comfortable that the 0.6 margin he had over the field after his first run would be enough to keep pole. He was proven right (although only just - Nico Rosberg was 0.088s off in the end).

After just two laps, Vettel was four seconds(!) clear of Rosberg before extending the gap through the first stint, which sat at around eight seconds once both had completed their first pit stop. A safety car wiped away Vettel’s advantage, giving Rosberg a chance to get back in the fight. Like he stood any chance…

From the restart, Vettel laid down a remarkable pace that was two seconds per lap quicker than what anyone else could muster. In the 10 laps that followed, Vettel extended his lead to 22.1 seconds, blowing the rest of the pack out of the water.

Vettel’s buffer when he crossed the line to Fernando Alonso is second place was 32.6 seconds, resulting in jeering from the crowd during the podium ceremony, so bored they were of his dominance. But in truth, they had witnessed one of the most dominant displays of Vettel’s career, showing the superiority that made him so hard to beat as the third of his nine-race win streak to end the season.

For me, it was peak Sebastian Vettel, demolishing the field in a fashion I can’t recall seeing again since.

Singapore 2019, Final hurrah with Ferrari - Megan White

Vettel scored his most recent and possibly final F1 win at the 2019 Singapore GP

Vettel scored his most recent and possibly final F1 win at the 2019 Singapore GP

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Having been handed a controversial penalty which demoted him to second in Canada, Vettel was still hunting for his first win of the season by the time Singapore rolled around, with his team-mate Charles Leclerc having taken consecutive victories at the previous two rounds at Spa and Monza.

Starting in third after a disappointing qualifying where Leclerc claimed top spot, Vettel immediately launched an attack on Hamilton up ahead, but was unable to match the pace of the Mercedes W10. But a rare error from the Brackley team left Hamilton struggling on ageing soft-compound tyres, eventually pitting late and emerging behind both Ferraris.

The Maranello team though got it right. Pitting Vettel at the same time as Max Verstappen, and one lap before Leclerc, he emerged ahead of a rather unhappy Monegasque due to a “more powerful” undercut than Ferrari had expected, in what Autosport magazine described as “floodlight robbery”. Biding his time, he took the lead just after the halfway mark and there he remained, holding off the future Ferrari number one to mark his last win in red – not that we knew it at the time.

Despite not being ranked as one of Vettel’s most stunning performances, it was this writer’s favourite, especially after the disappointment of Montreal. Watching the four-time champion recapture the top step of the podium after over a year away, it felt like his luck could be turning.

But it soon became evident that Ferrari had other plans, dispensing with Vettel's services and signing Carlos Sainz before the COVID-delayed 2020 season eventually got underway in Austria. It became a true highlight of the 2019 season before the lows of the following year as Ferrari struggled to sixth in the constructors' standings.

Vettel's 53rd win came at the expense of team-mate Leclerc as Ferrari underestimated the potency of an undercut

Vettel's 53rd win came at the expense of team-mate Leclerc as Ferrari underestimated the potency of an undercut

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

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