After a supremely impressive victory at the Singapore Grand Prix, it was disheartening to hear Sebastian Vettel receiving a round of boos from some of the watching fans.
If this had been the first occasion of booing, it would be easy to dismiss the matter as a freak group of local fans making their feelings felt. Mark Webber fans flying from nearby Australia perhaps.
But this wasn’t the first time that Vettel has been jeered while standing on the podium. It started back at the Canadian Grand Prix after Vettel had taken his third win of the season and has continued through the European rounds.
The Monza crowd was especially vociferous in their dislike of Vettel and this is the biggest reason why this issue isn’t as simple as it may first seem.
The popular opinion on the booing is that the majority of fans simply don’t like to see the same winner, week after week. They like competition and they like a close championship and the same person winning repeatedly takes away both.
If this was why the fans at Monza felt this way about Vettel, then they expressed a deep hypocrisy. These are the same fans which cheered Michael Schumacher as he stormed to five consecutive championships, using the best car and a contractual assistant team mate to pick up extra points.
In fact Schumacher, the man who dominated the sport unlike no one else in the modern era was rarely booed. Only when Ferrari’s team orders were so blatant and unsporting, such as the last corner pass by Schumacher at Austria in 2002, did the fans boo; and on those occasions such feelings were actually understandable.
So both Germans had the best car and use it to win often, yet only one is booed. What makes it even more confusing is that Vettel is arguably more likeable than Schumacher, who often came across as arrogant and serious and was actually caught seriously cheating on track several times, something Vettel never has.
Yet every time Schumacher turned up at Hockenheim or the Nurburgring, the audience was a sea of red caps and shirts and the crowd’s support was audible above the roar of his V10 at times. Vettel never gets such support, even from his home fans.
Vettel seems to be seen by many as a guy who got gifted the best car and is given whatever he wants by his management. But this is blatantly wrong. Vettel earned a Red Bull seat by performing well enough in junior racing to get a Toro Rosso seat, showed his worth by starring in his debut season which included a victory from pole at a soaking wet Monza, and hence was deservedly picked to replace David Coulthard for 2009.
From being fast but crash prone in his first two seasons, the following two and a half have been consistent and fast, and he seems to be showing constant improvement. A result of hard work and hours spent in simulators honing the car with his engineering team, not a gift.
He asks what he wants from his technical team, they give him it and he goes out and delivers. That isn’t wrong, that is what a successful driver does.
Vettel can do no more to get the respect he deserves. In time it will surely come as more and more people come to respect that his talent is one of the most brilliant ever.