Leading from the front

Once again, Sebastian Vettel qualified on pole, and once again, the race was over almost before it began.  Despite some interesting battles in the mid-field, the 2013 Italian GP played out like too many races before it this season: a dominant, almost-unchallenged Vettel victory.

It has often been said that Sebastian Vettel performs well when he is leading a race, and when he does not have to battle it out with other drivers on the track.  The implication is that while he may be an excellent driver, he is not a racer of the same calibre as, say, Kimi Räikkönen or Fernando Alonso.

svPhoto credit: Michael Elleray via Flickr

Is that really fair, though?  Consider this: Vettel has never won a race in which he qualified lower than third place.  Part of the reason for this is because Vettel rarely qualifies lower than third place.  In the last two seasons alone, Alonso has won races starting from the fifth, eighth, and 11th grid slots.  Räikkönen’s two wins since his return to F1 have been from fourth and seventh on the starting grid.  Again, one can hardly fault Vettel for qualifying too well, and then winning races, but there definitely seems to be something to the assertion that he is not a ‘come from behind’ racer.

For a historical comparison, TPL reviewed the results of every driver who has won at least 20 grands prix in his career.  In particular, we were looking for how many of each driver’s wins came from pole position.  Unsurprisingly, Vettel was near the top of the chart.

wins from pole

In fact, of the 15 drivers surveyed, only Ayrton Senna had a higher percentage of his wins come from poll position.  And while Senna and Vettel are separated by fewer than two percentage points, no one else is even close.  Again, it is difficult to conclude anything definitive from these statistics, but they certainly support the common perception that Vettel only wins when he can put some space between him and his competitors (or when he can ignore team orders).

Vettel does not always convert his pole positions into wins, but when he does win, it is usually from pole – and maybe that is why so many of his wins seem so boring.

Italian Grand Prix notes

  • Following on the theme of this post: considering Spa and Monza are two of the best circuits on the F1 calendar, we treated to two remarkably boring races to finish the European season.  Hopefully the night race in Singapore serves up a bit more entertainment, and a real battle at the front.
  • After Kimi Räikkönen’s record point-scoring streak finished in Belgium, he has begun a new, less-welcome streak: with an 11th-place finish in Italy, he failed to score in two consecutive races for the first time since the Malaysian and Chinese GPs at the start of the 2009 season (of course, he did not race in 2010 or 2011, but still . . . ).
  • Nico Hülkenberg’s fifth-place finish was the highest for Sauber since Kamui Kobayashi finished third in his home grand prix last season.  Even more impressive was his third place in a dry qualifying session, ahead of everyone but the Red Bulls.  With the ten points he collected in Italy, Hülkenberg is now only one point behind Daniel Ricciardo, who recently  secured the second race seat at Red Bull next year, and last year’s Sauber star, Sergio Perez.
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