With 53 Formula 1 wins to his name so far, Sebastian Vettel has produced some of the all-time greatest drives. But here is how his best of the best filter down
Sebastian Vettel will probably leave Ferrari at the end of the 2020 season without adding a Formula 1 world title to the four he took at Red Bull.
Being usurped by Charles Leclerc is perhaps an ignominious way for the German’s time with the famous Italian team to end, but Vettel has still been one of F1’s star performers of the past decade.
By the end of 2019 he had racked up 53 victories, enough to put him third on the all-time list, behind only his hero Michael Schumacher and his rival Lewis Hamilton. It now seems a good time to pick out the finest of those victories, 38 scored with Red Bull and 14 with Ferrari (not forgetting his solo success for Toro Rosso).
When coming up with this list, we looked at Vettel’s experience at the time, the machinery at his disposal, the challenges he faced on any given weekend, and the nature of his success.
10. 2011 Indian GP
Red Bull RB7
GP start: 79
GP win: 21
“It was Vettel’s most emphatic performance of the season,” reckoned Autosport after the Red Bull driver took pole, fastest lap, led every lap and victory at the new Buddh circuit.
“It was as perfect a demonstration of the racing driver’s art as he’s ever produced.”
It was typical Red Bull-era Vettel. He made a clean start from pole, drove a superb first lap to stay out of danger, kept everyone out of DRS range, then controlled proceedings.
Only Jenson Button’s McLaren kept him in sight, finishing 8.4 seconds behind. Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari crossed the line 24.3s after the Red Bull.
Even his team couldn’t slow him down at the end, Vettel making sure he secured fastest lap on the final two times by. Rarely has such domination been matched.
9. 2013 Abu Dhabi GP
Red Bull RB9
GP start: 118
GP win: 37
Vettel was beaten to pole by team-mate Mark Webber, but he grabbed the lead at the start and built a big advantage while the other Red Bull battled to find a way by Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.
What was particularly impressive was Vettel’s ability to lap rapidly while looking after the fragile Pirellis. “He has just stepped up another notch recently,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “His feel for the tyres while going so quickly is remarkable.”
Vettel also stayed out longer than most of his rivals. “Even as all the other two-stoppers came in and changed, he was going way faster on his very old softs than anyone could conjure from their fresh mediums,” said Autosport.
“He was just in a perfect place, in a zone rare even for him.”
When he did stop he was able to rejoin still in the lead.
Webber underlined the RB9’s pace by overcoming Rosberg for second, but he still finished more than half a minute behind his team-mate. “Seb was just on a different planet to the rest of us today,” he admitted.
8. 2015 Malaysian GP
GP start: 141
GP win: 40
“Ferrari is back” claimed Autosport magazine’s cover as Vettel scored the Italian team’s first win of the turbo hybrid era in only his second race in red.
Vettel had experienced a mediocre year in 2014, his final Red Bull season memorable largely for his thrashing at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo, and Ferrari was a poor fourth in the constructors’ table. It did not seem a match made in heaven, during a period of Mercedes domination.
But third first time out and a close second in qualifying at Sepang showed Ferrari had made big progress. And then Vettel beat Hamilton’s Mercedes in the race.
Poleman Hamilton led Vettel at the start, with the Ferrari still close when Mercedes decided to pit both cars during an early safety car period. That handed Vettel crucial track position.
Even more important was the Ferrari’s better tyre wear, which allowed Vettel to stop twice, whereas the Mercs of Hamilton and Rosberg were both on three-stoppers. The Silver Arrows simply could not make up the time, with Vettel even passing Hamilton on-track at one stage when they were out of sequence.
“This looked like the Sebastian who won four consecutive world championships for Red Bull,” said Autosport after the Ferrari’s 8.6s victory. “He executed his race to perfection.”
7. 2013 Singapore GP
Red Bull RB9
GP start: 114
GP win: 33
This was one of the Vettel-Red Bull package’s best days. Once Rosberg’s challenge at Turn 1 had been dispensed with, Vettel controlled the race.
After two laps Vettel was 4.1s clear and he was 11s ahead when Ricciardo crashed his Toro Rosso and brought out the safety car.
There were 31 laps of the 61 to go when the safety car pulled in and Vettel immediately unleashed incredible pace. He was 3.2s ahead after one flying lap, 5.6s after two and 8.3s after three – the main target being to pull enough of a lead for the Red Bull to pit and still rejoin ahead of fifth-placed Alonso’s Ferrari, which was not expected to stop again.
Vettel’s pace was impressive enough that he was able to stop with 17 laps to go and still retain the lead. His margin over second man Alonso at the flag was 32.6s, his fastest lap a whole second clear of the field.
“The Singapore track revealed the Red Bull RB9/Sebastian Vettel combination’s full potential for perhaps the first time this season,” said Autosport.
“As a total package they were utterly devastating.”
6. 2018 British GP
GP start: 208
GP win: 51
Vettel and Ferrari won 10 races during their 2017 and 2018 title fights against Hamilton and Mercedes, but few were as surprising as this one. And Vettel had to make a late pass to secure victory.
The fast sweeps of Silverstone had previously played to Mercedes’ strengths – Ferrari had been thrashed the year before – but an upgrade made the SF71H competitive and it took a special Hamilton lap to deny Vettel pole by 0.044s.
Vettel made a fine start to lead into Abbey, crucially being ahead of the trouble that unfolded at the Village right-hander when Kimi Raikkonen spun Hamilton around.
While Hamilton started a recovery drive, Vettel built up a gap over the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Tyre wear and thermal degradation were concerns and Vettel had to balance looking after the rubber with keeping a margin over Bottas.
With the race finely poised, Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber and caused a full-course yellow. Now strategies diverged – Vettel came in, while both Mercedes stayed out, handing Bottas the advantage.
Vettel’s chances of snatching the lead back were reduced when Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean clashed soon after the restart. When that mess was cleared up, there were just 11 of the 52 laps remaining.
Bottas initially seemed a tough nut to crack – holding off a Vettel attack around the outside at Brooklands – despite his ageing medium tyres, but the Ferrari’s newer soft rubber gave Vettel the edge.
Then, on lap 47, Vettel caught Bottas off-guard with a late, well-timed attack down the inside into Brooklands. It was a vital move that allowed Vettel to take the chequered flag 2.3s ahead of Hamilton.
“I was able to follow even though he had the clean air, but it was more difficult the closer I got,” explained Vettel.
“The final move, I was able to surprise him. I thought, ‘I have to go for it’ because the longer I spent behind him the more I was struggling with my tyres.”
There were too many occasions in 2018 when Vettel came off second-best in wheel-to-wheel fights, but the Silverstone race was a reminder that, when on top form, he can make the moves that win races.
5. 2010 Abu Dhabi GP
Red Bull RB6
GP start: 62
GP win: 10
With two rounds (and 50 points) left of the 2010 campaign, Vettel was only fourth in the drivers’ standings, 25 behind Alonso. Victory in Brazil moved Vettel to third, but he was still 15 behind Alonso and seven behind Red Bull team-mate Webber.
Vettel pipped Hamilton to pole by 0.031s in Abu Dhabi and held off the McLaren into the first corner. Hamilton kept Vettel under pressure, but when they emerged either side of traffic following their only stops, victory was all but sealed for Red Bull.
Vettel turned his engine down and came home 10.2s clear after a race that earned him a 10/10 in Autosport’s driver ratings.
That performance should probably have been a heroic failure – doing everything he could to secure the title but missing out due to others behind doing what they needed to do. But they didn’t.
Webber had pitted early (lap 11 of 55) and Ferrari reacted by bringing Alonso in to cover him four laps later, expecting the frontrunners to follow suit thanks to tyre degradation. But once the graining phase was over, the leaders were able to increase their pace and stay out.
That dropped the Spaniard behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault, which had stopped during an early safety car period, and meant Alonso was vulnerable to being jumped by later stoppers. For the remained of the race, Alonso could not pass Petrov, which meant the Ferrari only finished seventh, with Webber also stuck just behind.
The result was that the victorious Vettel beat Alonso by four points and Webber by 14 to secure his first world title. Autosport described it as “one of the sport’s great upsets”, but Vettel had played his part in a remarkable finale.
4. 2011 Spanish GP
Red Bull RB7
GP start: 67
GP win: 14
A sensational start allowed Alonso to take the lead, but his Ferrari was nowhere near fast enough for the home hero to sustain his challenge. More important was that Vettel jumped team-mate and polesitter Webber.
The top four – Alonso, Vettel, Webber and Hamilton – broke away and it became clear that the timing of pitstops would be crucial. Red Bull called Vettel in early, meaning he emerged behind Button’s McLaren.
Crucially, Vettel quickly found a way by Button, and Felipe Massa’s Ferrari. Not being able to do likewise then cost Webber as Hamilton jumped him following his stop.
“Yes, Vettel had a grip advantage on his newer tyres but this was still impressive, incisive stuff,” said Autosport report.
At the second round of stops, Vettel finally overcame Alonso by stopping a lap earlier. But Hamilton, running longer, also got ahead of the Ferrari once he finally came in and the McLaren was a threat to Red Bull, particularly as Vettel’s KERS was intermittently overheating.
Hamilton closed in. At half-distance, the gap was just 1.2s and Vettel soon came in for his third stop. The McLaren stopped a lap later and 2.7s separated them with 30 laps to go.
Although Hamilton closed again and applied pressure, Vettel was equal to the task. “He was absolutely perfect in his defences, having earlier been incisive in attack,” reckoned Autosport.
“He placed his car just where he needed it, and showed beautiful judgement in resisting the temptation to defend when Lewis was close but not quite close enough.”
It was the same story after their fourth and final stops, Vettel beating Hamilton by 0.6s.
3. 2011 Italian GP
Red Bull RB7
GP start: 75
GP win: 18
“How slowest car won fastest race,” was Autosport magazine’s coverline. Running higher levels of downforce at Monza gives a faster lap time, but teams tend to shy away from it because it can leave cars vulnerable to being overtaken around the high-speed venue.
Such was Vettel’s confidence, he was able to run a set-up and short top gear that made him nearly 20km/h (12mph) down on the straights and still qualify on pole by 0.45s. That meant he was higher in the rev range without DRS and Vettel duly won the race, after pulling off a fine pass on Alonso’s combative Ferrari.
Alonso had jumped Vettel at the start, just before the safety car was called for a first-corner smash. At the restart, Hamilton’s McLaren was crucially jumped by the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher, while a lap later Vettel got a run on Alonso exiting the first chicane.
Through the flat-out Curva Grande Alonso left just enough room on the outside, Vettel taking a pinch of grass to make it by. “Even Fernando must’ve been impressed by that one,” reckoned our report. “It made you wince just watching.”
With the McLarens of Hamilton and Button – potentially the only cars with the pace to challenge – stuck behind Schumacher, Vettel pulled clear. He remained unchallenged for the rest of the 53-lap race, coming home 9.6s clear of Button, who had finally made it into second on lap 38.
“Maybe Seb would have been able to beat the McLarens regardless,” wrote Autosport’s Mark Hughes. “But we’ll never know. It’s not his problem, and it was another perfect performance.”
“A victory worthy of Ayrton Senna at his best,” added Autosport’s driver ratings.
2. 2013 Indian GP
Red Bull RB9
GP start: 117
GP win: 36
There were times during the Red Bull-Vettel era when the need to look after the Pirelli tyres hid some of the combination’s advantage. That was certainly the case in many 2013 races, but in Buddh Vettel was able to use the soft tyre to take pole by a massive 0.752s and the more-durable medium rubber to win the race by almost half a minute.
The only issue was that the soft tyres Vettel had to start on were only good for a handful of laps. Vettel pitted from the lead at the end of lap two of 60 and that meant he emerged in traffic.
Helped by a longer top gear and less wing than originally planned, Vettel stormed up the field, having fallen briefly to 17th.
By the end of lap 13 he had charged up to third and Vettel overcame Sergio Perez’s McLaren for second eight tours later.
“Vettel made full use of DRS to pass people every lap, carefully ensuring that he came upon them at just the right moment and not in the fast, no-passing middle part of the lap,” wrote Hughes in our report.
When team-mate Webber – on a different strategy but unable to cut through traffic in the same way – pitted, Vettel moved back to the front.
Webber retired with alternator failure at two-thirds distance, leaving Vettel with a big advantage. Despite turning his KERS off as a precaution, he took the chequered flag 29.8s clear of second-placed Rosberg.
“A devastating victory won through sheer, pummeling, relentless pace,” said Autosport. It was a fitting way for Vettel to secure his fourth world title.
1. 2008 Italian GP
Toro Rosso STR3
GP start: 22
GP win: 1
Vettel surely became a better driver after 2008, but it’s the circumstances of the win – his inexperience, the unfancied car and the tricky conditions – that elevate this race in our list.
Toro Rosso’s 2008 season was certainly one of its best, but even so the team formerly known as Minardi was a points scorer rather than a podium contender.
Rain during qualifying at Monza allowed Vettel to exploit the Ferrari-engined STR3 and he took a sensation pole. It was still wet come race day, but the expectation was that the quicker cars – such as Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren starting on the front row – would prove too strong over the 53 laps.
The race began behind the safety car and Vettel held the lead from Kovalainen when things got properly under way. And he pulled clear.
It was “a case study in wet-weather brilliance in the beautifully balanced Toro Rosso,” according to Hughes. “Vettel was driving with a great uninhibited abandon, as if he had nothing to lose, sliding around just as he had in qualifying.”
Vettel survived a wild moment early on and still led after the first round of stops. Kovalainen looked beaten, but his team-mate was another matter.
At half-distance, Vettel had the yet-to-stop Lewis Hamilton in his mirrors, the McLaren man charging after starting 15th.
Then Hamilton pitted and put on more ‘extreme wets’, McLaren anticipating further rain. This was a crucial moment. If it rained again, Hamilton could stay on those tyres to the end while Vettel needed another stop.
But the rain stayed away, forcing Hamilton to pit again for intermediates, leaving Vettel to make his scheduled second pit visit without losing the lead.
He came home 12.5s clear of Kovalainen to become F1’s youngest winner at that time. And Toro Rosso took its first – and so far only – win before Red Bull’s ‘A-team’.
“Without Sebastian in the car this win would not have been possible,” said Toro Rosso’s technical director Giorgio Ascanelli.
“It was an incredible day, with a package that wasn’t supposed to be close to the podium,” said Vettel years later. “I’m extremely proud to have been part of that miracle day.”