Not surprisingly, the comparisons have already begun and the motorsports media is wondering whether the world has witnessed the birth of another Michael Schumacher. Perhaps, there is some serious merit to all these speculations, for Sebastian Vettel has, in the process of clinching his second consecutive Formula One championship, dominated the season a la Schumacher at the start of the millennium.
The 24-year old Vettel's superiority over the rest of the field, notably Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, has been not just total, but crushing to the extent that no other driver came even had a sniff at the crown, much less was a serious contender.
The German youngster displayed the kind of aggression and courage that reminds the old-timers of Schumacher at his peak. Assuming Vettel has another eight to nine seasons ahead of him at the minimum, it will surprise none, least of all Schumacher, should he break all records.
However, I agree with David Coulthard's reasoned theory that Vettel and Red Bull will not be able to replicate Schumacher-Ferrari type domination in view of the different conditions that put serious restraint on spends and test sessions unlike in the past when the Italian team had virtually unlimited budgets and its own track where the cars were tweaked.
The current regulations somewhat bring equality at least among the top teams and racing is far closer than the results indicate with as many as five world champions on the grid - Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton, Button and Vettel. Often, the top 10 cars are covered only by just over a second. Under the circumstances, Vettel and Red Bull had to work so much harder for their success this season.
It was not as if the likes of McLaren and Ferrari have been slouches, or for that matter Vettel benefited from any special favours in the Red Bull garage vis-a-vis Webber, like Schumacher did with his mates Irvine, Barrichello and Massa playing second fiddle. On the contrary, a lot of the credit for Vettel's success should be credited to the team's technical director Adrian Newey.
The 53-year-old Newey is considered one of the finest race engineers to have graced F1 and his constructors' titles with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull stand testimony to his prowess. Having signed a long-term contract with the Austrian team, Newey will continue to be in Vettel's corner as I doubt if Red Bull would let the German shift to any other team.
During one of his interviews after announcing his retirement, Schumacher had specifically pointed out that Vettel was the young talent to watch out for and even hailed him as a future world champion. As if on cue, Vettel finished eighth in his debut F1 race for BMW Sauber as a replacement driver for Kubica in 2007. Vettel can surpass Schumacher: Lauda
Later in the year, he moved to back-of-the-grid Red Bull Toro Rosso and his performance in the Chinese GP where he came from 17th on the grid to fourth position was a further confirmation of his raw talent that manifested itself at Monza the following year when he became the youngest ever to win a race.
For all his record-breaking achievements, I feel that we are yet to see the best of Vettel who is still a work in progress. Compared to the 2010 season, Vettel appears a bit more rounded and mature in his driving. There is greater composure about him as he is able to rein in his emotions to ensure that the job gets done. These are clear indicators of a driver who is improving with every outing.
Provided he stays clear of mishaps, the sky is the limit for Vettel, for it is difficult to see this young man anywhere but in the front row. For sure, he has a brilliant package of a car that is the envy of other teams. More significantly, the car seems to be far more reliable than the rest and if there are no issues regarding the tyres, then there is no stopping Vettel.
As for sheer pace, Vettel has it in plenty, but for me, his commitment be it while cornering or overtaking is what stands out. Like any champion athlete, he backs himself to come out of tricky or difficult situations unscathed.
Yes, there are many horses under the hood for Vettel and he has just about started out on a long journey to superstardom. It is early days yet to mention him and his idol Schumacher in the same breath, but I suspect, Vettel is destined to occupy his place in the Formula One pantheon.