Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Of A Kind: Johnson and Vettel

Six Time
Race fans in America had a rare treat last weekend.  They were able to watch two of the very best racers ever compete back-to-back: Sebastian Vettel and Jimmie Johnson.

But not the very best ever.  Not yet anyways.

Occasional race fans who refuse to rise early to watch the live broadcast of Formula One races or waste valuable space on their DVR, were in for a treat if they tuned into the U.S. Grand Prix from the Circuit of Americas track in Austin.  No, the race wasn’t very good.  They saw complete domination as Vettel drove away from the field at the start.  But there’s a point where complete domination can be fun to watch – and that point reached a peak on the last lap of the Austin race.  With an insurmountable lead and his team begging him to slow down, Vettel turned the fastest lap of the race.   

It was Vettel’s eighth straight win and 12th of the season.  He’d already clinched his fourth straight World Championship the previous race.   No one has ever won eight consecutive F1 races in a single season (Alberto Ascari won nine straight, but it took him two years to do it, Schumacher had won seven).  Only Schumacher has won 13 races in a season and Vettel can still match that mark.  In a little more than six years, Vettel already is fourth in career wins.
Four Time
When people talk about the best F1 drivers ever, Vettel has clearly joined the ranks of Juan Manuel Fangio, Jimmy Clark, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.  Only Fangio and Schumacher won four straight titles.  No one else has more than two in a row.  Vettel can surpass that mark next year.  Fangio won five titles before retiring at the peak of his career, and Schumacher has seven; so Vettel has a ways to go to become tops in that category.  
Johnson, after challenging for the lead early in the Homestead race, survived car-to-car contact before cruising to his sixth Sprint Cup Championship.  If you’re any kind of race fan, you know that puts him one back of NASCAR’s other best ever drivers, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson, who often is greeted by boos when he’s introduced, seemed genuinely surprised to be cheered by the crowd who had remained behind for the award ceremony in Florida.  Vettel, who has grown used to boos in Europe, was appreciative of the more positive reaction he received in Texas. 
And there’s the rub.  Fangio and Schumacher, Petty and Earnhardt, are typically mentioned only with reverence and respect.  Johnson and Vettel are often ridiculed for their success.  The Johnson and Vettel haters have been out in force on social media outlets since winning the most recent championships.
That both are focused and driven to be the best goes without saying.  You don’t accomplish what they’ve been able to do without that drive.  They both work hard to be physically fit for the stress and strains of a race car.  They both provide key input in helping to set up their cars.  The detractors say the reason they’re winning is because of their cars and their teams.  It’s more likely their teams are winning because of the feedback and input they provide.
While many NASCAR drivers have struggled through three generations of race cars and numerous changes in tire configuration during the past 10 years, Johnson has made each transition flawlessly.  Vettel also has easily adjusted to F1 rule and tire changes during his reign.
It is extremely difficult to compare drivers from different eras.  Yet there seems to be something special about seven championships.  Petty, Earnhardt and Schumacher all won seven.  A. J. Foyt has a record seven IndyCar titles.  Johnson can match that number next year.  Vettel has a bit further to go, but at 26, has plenty of time to get there.
Eight titles.  Now that would be something.  Best ever.

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