My wife and I are fans of Formula One racing. We watch every race and participate in a fantasy Formula One league. She beat me in the final standings this year, by the way.
Yesterday (November 25), Sebastien Vettel, driving for Red Bull, finished just high enough in the Brazil Grand Prix to win the 2012 World Driving Championship. That in itself is a remarkable achievement, as Vettel is a mere 25 years of age. What IS extraordinary, though, is that this is his third consecutive WDC. Only two other drivers in the history of the sport have accomplished that, and both are giants in the history of motor racing – Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Here’s the interesting part. Schumacher did it when he was 35, fully ten years older than Vettel is now.
In an odd quirk of fate, Carolyn and I actually were on hand at Indianapolis in 2007 when Vettel drove in his first Formula One race at the tender age of 19. He replaced Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber after Kubica was involved in a horrific crash at the Canadian Grand Prix a week earlier. And he stunned the racing world by scoring a championship point for the team in that very first drive.
Since then, Vettel has propelled the Red Bull team to three Constructor’s Championships. He has scored 37 poles and 25 race wins in only 101 starts. He’s still young. And he gives every indication of smashing every racing record before he is done.
The race Sunday was not without drama. His car was damaged when hit by Bruno Senna’s Williams in Turn 4. Rain played havoc with race strategy. His radio failed so he could not communicate with his pit crew. And the race stewards had their hands full trying to decide if he had passed another driver during a caution period. But in the end, he finished with three points more than his closest rival, the incomparable Fernando Alonso, driving for Ferrari.
So, kudos to Vettel. We once thought no one could ever match the records set by Michael Schumacher, who retired after Sunday’s race with the most race wins and driving championships in history. But don’t count this young man out. He is fast. He is savvy. And he is determined. We just might be watching the rise of the greatest driver ever. Who knows what he might accomplish by the time he’s 30?