By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Sebastian Vettel is in a class of his own in 2017. The Ferrari driver just picked up his third win and sixth podium of the season in spectacular fashion by overhauling team mate Kimi Raikkonen with a strategy that recalls memories of his friend and mentor Michael Schumacher.
He is calm, he is confident, he is excited, and it shows. He is relishing the budding rivalry with Lewis Hamilton and the challenge of beating Mercedes, but he is already a step ahead of them. In another similarity to Schumacher, Vettel is enjoying the best start to a season any Ferrari driver has had since Schumacher in 2002 when the elder German had five wins and one third place from the first six races. In fact, Vettel is having the strongest start of a season any driver has had since his own dominant campaign in 2011, Jenson Button in 2009, and Fernando Alonso in 2006.
The third year Ferrari driver has finished first or second in every race this year. Each race where he came second you can point to a specific strategy error or traffic as the reason he did not win. In China he lost by just over six seconds. In Russia he lost by only 6/10ths of a second. In Spain he lost out to Hamilton by just three and a half seconds. After nearly nine and a half hours of racing this season, only a combined 11 or 12 seconds is all that has separated Vettel from winning every race.
Even more important, Sebastian hasn’t put a foot wrong all season, whereas Hamilton has faltered twice; the mysterious lack of pace in Russia and the awful qualifying in Monaco which limited him to seventh place in the race. Lewis is now 25 points behind in the championship, which means he could win the next race with Vettel retiring and they would still come out tied on points. Equally it seems easier to find the sweet spot on the set up for the SF70H versus the Mercedes W08 which is overweight and tricky to get a handle on.
Hamilton may be overjoyed with his recovery drive on Sunday and Mercedes may be happy with Valtteri Bottas who is proving an excellent number two, but they should be very worried. After the three most dominant years in the sport’s history, they are slowly loosing their grasp on the top spot. Vettel and Ferrari are taking it by force.