Hamilton and Vettel – Setup for a Showdown

In April 2015, before the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix, The BBC‘s Lee McKenzie sat for an interview with Formula 1 World Champions, Sebastain Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. The reading of the tea leaves after this party may in time, tell a story.

This was a fairly candid and open exchange. We saw the personalities of rivals blend, bump but not relent. I highly recommend watching the interview at this  link ,to avoid any international connection issues. My nature is to reduce systems, processes and myself down to their core components.  I won’t tell the story of the interview. But what I will say is that in this interview  Hamilton and Vettel expose each others personality traits   and is extremely telling to “how they roll”.  We are far enough into  this season to where some of those first impressions have begun to take shape in the depth of time over the course of the season. Also accounting for the history leading up to that point, here is what they have revealed…

It is not very often we get to see F1 drivers in a conversational posture while within an interview context. Aside from race related press panels, most F1 interviews are conducted one on one. In the interview you can tell that the two are friends, but the space between them is measured, calculated by either one or both.  Lee McKenzie kept her interaction very limited but injected just the right questions and when needed. I suspect they had no idea where this conversation would lead or how it would end. There is no higher stakes in professional sports than the Formula 1 World Championship, and Lee McKenzie was trying to juggle two “alpha’s” on par with Ayrton Senna,  while standing in the very “tippy” canoe of an open set.  There were times when I thought the interview could seemingly go all wrong.  But it did not. In the end it was a great piece. In time this report will serve as yet another historical first person expose onto the personal battlefield that few see, and fewer win.

As I look at Hamilton and Vettel I see two entirely different personalities.  Yet between them, and their combined 6 world championships, are the common 3 elements I see in all race drivers. The 3 elements of my Race Driver periodic chart is very simple. A race drivers makeup is mostly about omissions than character trait qualifiers.  Race drivers do not; over think, feel self-doubt, feel they will ever lose, or obsess on their fears. Driving a race car is entirely about projecting forward into the moment on the track with your talent and training.  All race car drivers must have. Most every driver in the top professional racing series started at young.

Regardless of the driver or series, there seems to be a self-igniting element to drivers personalities. It is within this trait where I’ve unearthed two elements of the race drivers periodic chart. Because race car drivers have no fears to restrict their ambition, the drivers are constantly moving to fill that void of fear, and that is where we find the self igniting-components. those two components are Passion and Tenacity.

Any driver in a top racing series carries the traits of passion and tenacity onto the track. distinguishing the two is almost impossible because they work together.  These two constantly modulating values with the Formula 1 driver is what drives them to distinction.  And when evaluating drivers and performance, maybe we find hints of their makeup by on and off track performances.

No detraction can be made about Vettel’s or Hamiltons passion or tenacity, both are flush. But there are differences between the two, and the subtle evidence is more like a smell or a taste than something you can easily quantify. Vettel’s Passion has a whiff of Tenacity to it, while Hamilton’s Tenacity has a whiff of Passion about it. In some ways they are perfect competitors.

The 2015 season started with Mercedes in a very comfortable place. Lewis Hamilton was coming from the 2014 F1 Championship over his teammate Nico Rosberg. This years championship should be Hamilton’s to loose. I think the easiest way to show whiffs of Hamilton’s passion flavored tenacity was from his conduct last year.

Hamilton faced mechanical issues and did not finish the first race of the 2014 season. His rival Nico Rosberg gained an early points lead but Hamilton responded with four consecutive victories. After Hamiltons second DNF at Belgium, it seemed like there was a luck element at work here against. None of the issues faced by Hamilton were affecting his teammate. Hamilton fired his tenacity with passion to keep his head straight, solve problems and continue moving into the void of his focused vision and win.

Vettel on the other hand may have more than just a whiff of tenacity behind his passion. Look at his 2014 season with Redbull.  A quote from Vettel that probably sums it up for me is  “The car just does not suite me”.  We could couch that statement and read more into it than was probably meant. But, the car lacked the capabilities required to win the championship. His passion carried him to 5th place and behind his teammate Daniel Riccardo. He knew he could not win the championship in the Redbull and there was no brass ring for his tenacity to reach out for, at which point Vettel’s move to Ferrari was inevitable.

As for the current  2015 season, Lewis Hamilton has a 41 point lead over his teammate Nico Rosberg. Vettel follows Robserg by 8 points. At the time of the  interview in April 2015, before Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton had recorded a 1st place in Australia, 2nd place in Malaysia, and a 1st place in China. Rosberg is Hamiltons expected competitor for the 2015 Championship. He is second in the championship with 41 points behind Hamilton.  But sitting only 8 points behind Rosberg is Vettel, and he smells blood.

Position 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
Points 25 18 15 12 10 8 6 4 2 1

Making up 49 points in the Championship with only six races left will not be easy. According to the F1 Sporting Regulations there will be no double points awarded in the last race this year. So Vettel needs some luck, but he thinks he can get there.

At the moment there are no explanations for the drop off in performance by MercedesBenz F1 at the  Singapore Gran Prix. Hamilton saw his first retirement of the entire season due to a failed hose clamp and Rosberg finished an uncharacteristic 4th. Even before the failure Hamilton was not fighting for the race lead. The previous week Rosberg had to jump from his Silver Arrow as flames shot out of the back like an after burner as the car caught fire. Of course these things can be explained away. But the rear tyre grip issues on the Mercedes car has the team appearantly stumped. Regardless, Lewis Hamilton has a firm lead and should win the championship.

And this is where Vettel’s passion takes over. F1 fortunes can shift rather quickly, and if he feels a hint of a wind at his back, Vettel’s sense of destiny can take over.

Sebastian Vettel sees a gap and believes he can still win the 2015 World Championship.  To catch Hamilton he’ll need help! For Vettel to have any shot at the championship, Hamilton will need at least 1, and probably 2 DNF’s and he has to beat Rosberg. It is a long order, and the stakes for the remaining six races are heating up. Regardless of who wins the 2015 formula 1 World Championship, there will be a whiff of both tenacity and passion coming from the podium that day, it just depending on the way the winds of fortune blow away the tea leaves,  once again, as history is written!