The 2012 Formula One season may yet have delivered the new drivers' champion, but even before the world's fastest racing cars finish their cylinder-driven samba around the Interlagos Circuit in Sao Paulo next week we can be certain of one fact ... the new champion will be crowned an all-time great along with this year's best.
Both Germany's Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso of Spain are used to superlatives from motor racing commentators: they are both exceptionally talented and boast back-to-back double-champion pedigree.
And as the two sole pilots left in the hunt to finish top of this year's grid, they also both stand on the edge of joining an elite members' club.
Since the sport's birth in 1950 few have managed to win three world titles; those who did scale these heights are now legends.
Michael Schumacher (seven world titles), Juan Manuel Fangio (five), Alain Prost (four), Niki Lauda (three), Nelson Piquet (three), Ayrton Senna (three), Jack Brabham (three) and Jackie Stewart (three) are all giants on whose shoulders the modern sport now stands.
Notice also, by the way, this list excludes such notables as Stirling Moss, Damon Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alberto Ascari or Mario Andretti; drivers who - among others - possessed scintillating skill, charisma and speed but were without the car, consistency or fortune to enter the pantheon set aside for the privileged few.
With all to play for ahead of Brazil's finale from the favelas - only 13 points separate championship leader Vettel from Alonso in second, with 25 points available to the winner of the last race - the thought of attaining such an historic triumph must be driving (literally) every competitive sinew the two rivals possess.
Whoever wins, there are few who could argue they would not deserve such accolade. The biggest criticism which could be leveled at Vettel is he has benefitted from driving a Red Bull car far superior to any in the other garages of the pit lane.
In Adrian Newey, Red Bull have a genius of design who has produced a reliable, innovative and super quick package time and time again. But to think that a fast car alone is enough to deliver three titles would be small-minded.
Just ask Mark Webber - who has raced the same car as Vettel to exactly no world titles in three years - or Senna and Prost, who dueled for their championships using the same McLaren car. It takes something extra to be called “number one”.
Whether nailing qualifying to clinch pole by hundredths of a second, as in Bahrain, or driving against the odds from pits to podium to pick up improbable points in Abu Dhabi, or withstanding the mental pressures of leading from the front to leave opponents trailing in his wake (two years in a row in India), Vettel delivers when performance is most needed.
If Alonso were to win it would definitely turn the tables on those who argue F1 is merely down to engineering prowess over driver skill.
Even Ferrari's most ardent fans would admit the “Prancing Horse” was more of a stub-nosed dog at the start of the season, and in a year when Red Bull have again wrapped up the constructors' championship, the Maranello man has arguably performed better than any other driver given the machine at his disposal.
Alonso's against-the-odds points grab this season has been nothing short of remarkable: in Malaysia he drove from 8th on the grid to victory, in Valencia it was from 11th he dragged the Ferrari to a win before securing a memorable 3rd place finish in Monza from a starting place of 10th.
In terms of return, 12 podium places from 19 races is worthy of a separate award for collecting champagne jeroboams.
It also has to be considered that this year's champion would have won by beating a record number of rival world champions to the prize. Could that be said of Schumacher or Prost in their pomp? Whatever the outcome in Brazil the F1 world will celebrate a new triple-champion, the question then will be - given the age of both concerned - whether they can challenge to be the greatest F1 driver in history.
An accurate, thoughtful article. If Vettel was driving a Ferrari right now, he clearly would not be in the lead of this championship.
Fernando has consistently driven his cars beyond what others could muster... beating Michael Schumacher for the Championship when Ferrari was at its zenith, with a Renault crippled by a mid-season FIA rules change.
That said, why was Alonzo omitted (unlike Vettel) from your Greatest F1 Drivers pole??
There is no doubt of both drivers' entries in history books, but at this point there is no doubt at all that Alonso outclasses Vettel in pure driving department. Vettel had the better car and lots of room for entire races from the pole position, while Alonso really had to battle hard. Which, in retrospect, is OK since Alonso would have ran away with it otherwise... Still, bright future for Vettel is a no-brainer.
I don't think Alonso would have achieved what Vettel did in the race before: starting from the back to race in the 3rd position, and that twice, too! Vettel and Alonso are both highly talented, but Vettel has the advantage of beinbg more easy-going whereas Alonso is an obsessed bore. To demean Vettel because he has a very good car is ridiculous! After all, he had to fight lots of car problems this season, and he did it with bravour! He is presently the best driver in the pack.
The forecast for Sao Paulo is rain as usual. That would be good!
P.S.: When you mentioned Damon Hill, I believe you meant his father, Graham Hill.
The most talented drivers on the grid this year are Hamilton and Raikonen – give them a reliable and fast car, they are guaranteed to win races. For Hamilton sometimes his attitude and superstar persona lets him down – if he concentrates on racing he will win many more races. Hope Mercedes can deliver him a good car next year.
Vettel will probably win thanks to Grosjean and Raikonnen...but you never know, maybe this weekend they will crash with Vettel and not with Alonso (50 POINTS GONE) and Alonso may have a chance. I really hope so cause he deserves the tittle (as he did in 2010)....
Vettel 's and Webber's cars are not exactly the same. Still they often earn a one two start., signifying a faster cars than te rest. Even with Webber 's inferior racing skills . Alonso, currently, is head to head with Vettel with a "slower" car. But Alonso, was shamed by Hamilton driving the same car in the latter' s rookie year. Vettel and Alonso are up there right now mostly due to a more reliable car and crew. Raikonnen is third without even trying. Crazy.
Even he didn't win three championships, Jim Clark is one of the best of this sport
i think Lewis did all F1 fans a big favor by making the championship down to the wire in Brazil. i honestly don't know who i want to win but i'm very excited about watching the next race.
Definitely agree with both comments above. Vettel? Not Really.
Alonso on the otherhand is definitely a unique talent. He was able to winning races even with that puny Renault engine back then, and that was beating Schumacher who has the best car of the era to win that, which is no small feat at all.
Alonso, you r the champion…whatever happens…you have been consistent, competing and pushing to the max.
Vettel, you r lucky, and you have a good car.
Alonso, race and beat Vettel , for all your fans, rave and show everybody you’re the champion!!!
very good luck
Whether or not Alonzo wins in Brazil or he wins the Driver of the Year, Alonzo is the better driver, better even than Vettel. In more occasions this year he drove a car with less speed and with more problems but he finished more races with podium standing. Obviously the Ferrari is this years third class car, after the McClaren at second and Red bull at first but with the best drivder around.
CNN you are preempting the fact that Vettel will win on Sunday in Brazil that is why you already included Vettel in the choices for Greatest all time F1 driver. It would be a shame if you were to erase Vettel there once Alonzo wins.
I don't see how Vettel can be regarded as one of the greats:
1) There's a massive gap in the performance of the Red Bull and Ferrari and yet Alsonso still has a chance of winning. Had Vettel and Alonso been driving for the other team then Alonso (or Hamilton, Raikkonnen,Button etc) would have been out of sight a long time ago.
2) Vettel has had the best car in terms of performance and reliabilty for the majority of the last few seasons.
3) Vettel has never really had to regularly fight when driving an inferior car.
4) Mark Webber, who's an average driver, can match Vettel when he's allowed to.
5) Vettel's success is primarily due to Adrian Newey and the people at Red Bull who're responsible for finding loopholes in the rules.
Vettel may end his career with many more championships but so did Schummacher. However the last few years have demonstrated that Schummacher isn't as great as his 7 titles would suggest.
Sebi is a racing magician. How he good his mojo back after being so far down is unbelivable. I back Vettel and Man U in a double. Both of them were considered no hopes – but now there is hope!
I honestly think Vettel is a superior driver to Alonso, and this will be proven over the course of many years to come. By the time both men retire, Sebastian will have a much better track record than Fernando.
Look at the fact that Felipe Massa has been driving better in the last few races than Alonso has in the same machine. Webber is also not by any means a mediocre driver.
People love to use the performance of the Red Bull to to downplay the skill of Vettel. They do this because they can't stand the fact that he may actually be a superior driver. Ultimately, the Ferrari is not that much slower than the Red Bull now. And Vettel has not had an easy season this year. The pace of the car was inferior for the first half of the season, and plagued by reliability issues.
So when morons like this Bob guy a few comments above mine say things like: "I don't see how Vettel can be regarded as one of the greats"... well fair enough. Neither then are Senna, Fangio, Prost, or any of the other greats. They ALL had superior cars as well. Car+Driver= win. And the better driver gets the better car.
Make no mistake. I think Alonso is one of the greatest drivers ever. But to say something as silly as "Vettel is not one of the greats"? Pure BS.
The better driver for me would be one I'd be willing to ride with. Fast & confident without unnecessary hellish tricks. I will want to arrive in style in one piece. That would be Vettel !
I've got a feeling, just like most other F1 followers.
F1 has proven time and time again that there are three elements to winning:
1) Car performance & reliability
2) Driver ability and prowess
In this season's results, it can be safely stated that luck has swung in all sorts of direction for many of the elite drivers.
The ferrari that Alonso has had to deal with has proven that qualifying trim is not as good as race trim. Alonso's team has played with the strategy of each race the best thy could, however, in hind sight, so has the Red Bull.
Reliability and luck have hampered both drivers but when you see that Alonso managed to stay soo ever close to Vettel with only two wins to Vettels 5 is truly amazing. He has been very consistent and stayed chasing it all the way to the end. Massa has my hat off for being a good team player but I am not soo sure I can say for webber. What planet is this guy living on?
On the whole, the gap of only 3 points between the two players suggests that Alonso really drove that ferrari's heart out hence my vote goes out to him.
This is not to say that vettel is a bad driver, just a luckier one to be in a newey(er) car.
Good job Fernando and Vettel.
vettel is a better driver than alonso everyone is speaking about the superiior car of vettel but if you take look at past champions even schumacher, aryton senna everyone won the races with the superior cars .you cant disagree with this. how can you be on pole without the superior car so it is the drivers who makes the car to work great with the team they are in. It is rubbish to degrade the qualities of a driver because of superior cars. also the race pace of ferrari much better than red bull for most part of the season only in the second part where redbull made improvement it got better pace. do you agree?
The difference between Vettel and people like Senna and Prost is that Senna and Prost frequently drove inferior machinery to their opponents. They were able to win frequently in inferior machinery. This is also true of current drivers like Alonso, Hamilton etc but Vettel hasn't proved this regularly. Senna, Prost etc also drove in an era where cars were fragile and harder to driver. To put Vettel in the same class as them is crazy.
You should also note the following:
1) Many other current and ex-F1 drivers have questioned Vettel's greatness. If you do your research then you'll see how many.
2) His performance dipped each time Red Bull had to change their car design when instructed by the FIA.
3) Schummacher won 7 titles but the facts of the recent 3 years prove that he isn't as great as his 7 titles suggest. (He was definitely the best driver of his era by a mile.) The number of titles that you win doesn't indicate how great you are in comparison to others.
I am so happy we have tight F1 championships. Long time since I was so entertained in the last race, it was rocking epic! Maybe Kimis championship was just as epic and close, but this was awesome as well. Seb had the best car, so Alonso was the best driver this season, no doubt. But Sebs talent+car was just a tad too much for Alonso. Now if this was an awesome world, boot Webber and put Alonso in Red Bull for next season and change nothing about the cars :) I am feeling so blessed atm to be able to witness a great new era of F1 with young drivers as Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso(yes still young) and Kimi as the old man wanting a bite of cake as well. Guys, regardless of who is greatest, this is gonna be FUN to watch the next 10 years even when Kimi and then later Alonso pulls their plugs.
Unfortunately, Hamilton can change teams and cars but he can't change his race which 's the main problem in the F1 sport. A crime Hamilton commits and get punished the other drivers do it and go free thanks to the Racist Ecclestone, SHAME ON F1!
In rreality Motor Racing and F1 is a completly different sport from what it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Around 1985 with the introduction of Carbon firbre chassis of much greater strengh and safety and the enormous increase in F1 sponsorship due to chances in the world economy and finance markets as a Result of Thatcher and Reagan, F1 became basically safe and a business rather than a sport. The accidents to Senna, Donnely and H. Surtees were really unfortunately freak occurences like the odd fatality in Rugby.
Therefore Schummacher and Vetel can not be compared with even the early 1980s Sports car and F1 drivers like Bellof, Mansell, Senna, Prost and Piquet who started in a still lethal sport. Schumacher said as much.
Nevertheless as a pure driver in dry and rain , Schummacher and Vettel are brilliant and I think Schumacher was outdriving and out psyching Senna in early 1994.
My own view is Stewarts three world championships were all achieved in significantly inferior cars with good reliable chassis.
In 1969 my view is the Lotus 49 and Brabham BT26 were far quicker than Stewarts Matra, There was nothing remarkable about Stewarts 71-73 Tyrrells he simply outthought Peterson and Fittipaldi who were far faster on pure speed. Fangio usually had the best car and finished because he won as slowly as popular. But he only won the 1956 Championship because the Ferrari was more reliable than the Moss car and because at Monza, Peter Collins decided he didn't want the responsibility of being champion and handed his car to Fangio.
Clearly Red Bull has had the mark on the rest of the reams. I really like Mark Webber, in fact I think he's the class of the field. I don't think he's on par with Alonso or Vettel.
I've been to F1 races since I was in a stroller. My parents, both anglos, went to University of the Americas, in Mexico City. Mexico City had an F1 race in the '60s, when I was born. I also lived in PHX, when that debacle happened, but I got full access passes for all three years. Though F1 is a multi $Billion business, please don't forget that it's roots, and I believe, the present is the fact that F1 is a Gentleman's SPORT!
Vettel is no gentleman. He's a spoiled kid, who knows very little about life. He shows no wisdom. Granted he's only 25, or so. To me, he acts like one of these kid actors, who does what he wants, when he wants. No matter how it might affect others. One good thing I can say about Vettel, is he's not in trouble, or in the news, making an ass of himself, like many other, young athletes.
He's a good driver in a GREAT car on a GREAT team. I would put Alonso vs Vettel, in the same car, for $10K, any day. Barring injury, he'll win another title, in '13. BORING.
Maybe Ferrari can give Alonso a car, that will allow him to put together a string of wins, and make the rest of the season exciting.
Los Angeles CA
now title no. 4 is around the corner for SV! And if RB was the superior car all these years, where are the one/two wins of RB and where has MW won the title or at least finished second in the championship? Didn't happen .... did it? And make no mistake, MW is a damn good enough driver – otherwise he would not have been driving for RB all these years with many talented and established drivers wanting to catch a seat in a RB. Vettel is the real deal ... and he is only 25! He will win many more races and I would not be surprised if he matches or surpasses MS's number of titles! LH and FA will not be able to match his achievements ...
Collaborator and co-creator of CNN sport concepts such as The CNNFC, The Circuit and Aiming for Gold I have a passion for all things world football, F1 and athletic excellence.
Veteran of the 2010 World Cup, the 2012 London Games and a lifelong Grand Prix devotee my interest lies in sport’s power to intrigue and excite, the deeper stories statistics can tell and the opportunity social media platforms offer for engagement of a global sport community.