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I have wanted to write this post for quite sometime. If I’m honest, since the end of the 2012 season, but I did not want to look like a sore loser and who really wants to read a cranky blogger’s conjecture at the end of the day? I again had the urge to write this post at the end of last season but in the interest of not wanting to rain on the Vettel four-time champion parade I thought the better of it that time as well.

However, now that the celebrations are over, testing has begun and all manner of F1 topics fall into the open season category, I am at last ready to stir the pot. Vettel vs. Alonso, who is better?

On the surface of it there really is no argument to be made. Vettel has four titles to Alonso’s two. What could be a simpler conclusion? Vettel is the better driver. There is just one small little problem with this kind of analysis, well actually there are four and they go by the designations RB6, RB7, RB8 and RB9. And this is where it all gets very tricky. I don’t think that you can go by the number of world titles won because our two protagonists were driving vastly different machinery, one significantly faster than the other. It is no secret that many in F1 credit Vettel’s success not so much to his driving talent as to being lucky enough to pilot the cars that Adrian Newey has penned.

Let me ask this question out loud: Would we even be having this debate if in 2010 the right pit strategy call was made by Ferrari at the final race in Abu Dhabi? And can anyone forget the Grosjean demolition derby of 2012 in the Ardennes forest on a perfect sunny day at about 2pm local time? If, and I know it is a big if, these two single incidents did not occur then the driver’s title count might be reversed for both of these drivers. I’m not saying Vettel didn’t deserve those titles, they were won fair and square, but is there really that much difference between him and the next guy (Alonso) when it comes down to two incidents?

There are a couple of different ways this post can go right now. In one version I could say something along the lines of: Alonso is the better or more complete driver despite the fact that he has only (so funny to think that is somehow deficient) two driver titles, and then proceed to prove this point which of course would then lead to mayhem and probably some death threats for yours truly, although more than likely it would make for a colorful comments section.

Instead I want to take a different route. I want to work through this conundrum by posing a series of questions for you the readers to ponder and then come to your own conclusion.

Here is my first question for you. What is more important, the car or the driver? The right answer is both are equally important. The greatest driver in the world cannot make a tenth place car a first place one. But if a driver can constantly make a tenth place car into a fourth place car, or in the case of Alonso, a sixth and seventh place car into commonly a third and second place one with a few firsts, is this not a better measure of a driver’s skill set than taking the fastest car from pole to finish line in first place? Conversely, what does it say about a driver whose car is far superior to the others, who commonly finishes first but at the end of a season only just barely takes the title. The way I have crafted the questions could be interpreted as loaded or asked in a biased way, but, fastest car vs. not-so-fast car, which one shows us the driver’s true ability?

Question number two: Are multiple titles an accurate way to determine who’s greater? Michael Schumacher is on top with seven titles and 91 grand prix wins yet if you ask many very well informed F1 fans, Schumacher would not be at the top of the list as the greatest F1 pilot. According to many fans and along with the BBC F1 team this particular honor goes to the late Ayrton Senna who has three. In fact Schumacher lines up fourth behind Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Jim Clark (two). I am in no way diminishing what Schumacher has done, it is truly remarkable. But it is interesting that the F1 community at large is not necessarily looking at the most titles as making the greatest driver but also at the many other factors involved in driving an F1 car.

OK, if I have not already made about a million enemies by now this next point should do the trick. Let me start off by asking you, who is ideally placed to observe and comment on F1 drivers at large? Is it the fans? There is probably a small percentage that could be considered to have a reasonable amount of insight. How about the commentators? Without a doubt, some of them, yes. Of course you would have to include the journalists who cover F1 and write or contribute to magazines such as Autosport or F1 Magazine. Team principals have to figure high up on the list as well, but arguably the drivers themselves more than likely are the best judges of each other and the ability that each possesses.

So what do the drivers think about this very point of contention? Lewis Hamilton, who by the way not too long ago had nothing nice to say about his then teammate Alonso, has been a little more vocal than others. As far back as October while speaking to AS, a Spanish sports daily, Hamilton states: “Seb is a great champion!” He then goes on to say, “But what is clear to me is that if Fernando (Alonso) had been in that car…he would be far beyond where Vettel is now. He would have won even more easily.” Pretty heavy words to say about a four-time world champion, no?

As if that was not enough fuel thrown on the fire, in an end of season survey (presumably an unofficial one) where the drivers were asked point blank (that always produces accurate results, right?) who the best driver was in this current era the answers were quite varied. The more seasoned drivers abstained minus Hamilton. Some answered in a politically correct manner depending on their employer, but surprisingly, of the drivers that did answer, Alonso comes out on top by a two-to-one margin.

This should not be taken too seriously, but one has to ask how, after winning just about everything under the sun on the way to four titles, has Vettel not won over the majority of the grid in this regard? It is worth noting right here that two out of the four years Vettel has won the championship (2010 and 2012) it was Alonso and not Vettel who was voted (this one was more official as it was conducted by Autosport) the best driver by the team principals using the same points scoring system that F1 uses to distribute points for a grand prix. Food for thought.

So, have I proven my point that Fernando is the better driver, which also happens to be my personal opinion as an avid fan? You might be surprised to hear that my answer, as a (sort of) unbiased blogger, is “No.” As fans, we will always reduce down to the simplest terms something which is extremely complex and in so doing miss some very important nuances. This is the real crux of the problem and the one that I feel is always overlooked when comparing F1 drivers. Let’s be completely honest, there is always a subtext of favoritism no matter how the discussion is crafted. Which is what makes a sports fan a sports fan so it’s just fine. But let’s look at some of the complexities of deciding who is the best driver, if you’re still with me and have not hit the back button just yet.

Let us consider the case of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen when they were both at Ferrari. How can we really make the comparison between drivers, even in the same car? Lets go back to 2007/8 when prior to the huge regulation changes to the cars, Ferrari was still enjoying the fruits of the Rory Byrne era and their car was still competitive. Kimi was driving how he always does, consistently fast and always a threat. Massa was at the top of his game and put together an almost championship year. As of right now I would rate Raikkonen the more accomplished driver, but back in those years was there that much of a difference? In one year Raikkonen enjoyed a better season and in the following one it was Massa that drove at a higher level based on their season-ending stats.

Equipment changes and each driver’s different styles can drastically affect how well they can drive a car, regardless of their talent. Think back to Toyota and Ralph Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. One liked the front suspension geometry and one did not. The way a car is designed or how the regulations change from year to year can have an overwhelming effect on a driver. It surely happened to Massa when the series moved to Pirelli rubber from Bridgestone. Do you recall the issues that Damon Hill had when grooved tires were introduced? What about the claim that those grooved tires actually helped the older Schumacher due to the fact that it simulated driving in the rain, which Michael was extremely proficient at.

Has anyone really considered why Mark Webber was driving on par with Vettel in 2010 and then the following years fell further and further behind? If I have my facts straight was it not due to Adrian Newey perfecting the blown diffuser? Webber could not come to grips with it. It just did not suit his driving style. On the other hand it suited Vettel’s just fine and he embraced it. I wonder what the results between the two would have been like if off-throttle blowing and the black art of the blown diffuser never was developed? We will never know.

Whether Alonso or Vettel wins the title this year (or one of the guys driving the silver and green car, or, who knows at this point?!) I predict that we will be having the same debate at year’s end. Are we not passionate fans who will always defend and support the teams and drivers that are close to our heart? It is human nature to defend with passion that which we (sometimes blindly) love. In fact it is this very debate that makes not just watching F1 so exciting but the F1 conversation so interesting as well. Stewart vs. Clark, Prost vs. Senna, Mansell vs. Piquet, Schumacher vs. everyone … the debate is never ending. And that’s a good thing.

There are those of us who no matter what, feel it is Alonso who is the top competitor and without a doubt the best of the best. There are an equal amount of us who can quite convincingly state the same about Vettel and further support that claim with his titles and many records. Probably there are many in the Lewis Hamilton camp as well, and the Kimi camp and the Jenson camp.

However, when all is said and done it would appear it is simply impossible to claim that one driver deserves that most coveted title, the BEST driver among his peers, although we commonly try. We get all caught up in who is the best this, who is the best that, when the truth of the matter is that in the current era there are five drivers who could all be considered the best under the right conditions. Alonso has done the most with the least. Sebastian has the most driver’s titles. No one is faster over one lap than Lewis Hamilton nor can make a pass stick better. No one has more guts or panache than Kimi and he plucked his title out of thin air so he’s always a threat. Jenson Button took a team from being back markers to winning driver’s and constructor’s titles in one year; no one else can say that.

So I say, let the debate continue, and I will lobby as ferociously as anyone for Alonso and have fun doing it, but let’s all just admit, if only to ourselves, that there really is no final answer, no matter what.

  • wchrisg

    Good Job, Keep Poking that thing with a stick.

  • Jim

    Of course Michael and Sebastian are going to lose out to any kind of poll down when the participants are mostly Anglos. They are German and the only thing the English hate more then a German are the French. Michael gets criticized for his aggressive driving style yet Senna won the poll. Between the romanticism that death brings in this sport and his biggest rival being French he is always going to be the highest voted recent driver.

    The big criticism against Vettel is he drives the best car yet Fangio always drove the best car and no one slams him for that.

    • Brody

      Fangio also had one of the most unforgettable drives in the history of F1….the 1957 German GP, which had sealed his greatness.

  • jeff

    After harshly criticizing you, Todd, you write this piece . Crow pie tastes like crap… :D

    Great article; to me, ultimately, I echo what your question regarding those best-placed to assess drivers. We, the casual pundit, don’t have access to reams of driver-input, telemetry, aren’t privy to their feedback regarding car setup/track conditions (“understeer” over the radio nor press release/media garbage doesn’t count), nor do many of us understand the nuances of actual performance driving. To those that do, do we really believe trail braking into a corner or throttle-based attitude manipulation translates from road car to high-downforce, open wheeled single seaters?

    And, are we looking at public input or private? We fans hear the rumors and the press, but what a current team principal or technical team, who’s driver assessment I’d listen to foremost, ever say in a press conference what is said in meetings? Doubt it. In order, here are those whom I believe are best placed to provide opinion behind closed doors:

    1. Current team members (Principals, technical people.)

    2. FORMER drivers/teammates w/ new jobs in the sport (Martin Brundle, Sir Jacky, Horner, Mcnish).

    3. Pundits w/ longterm F1 experience and current contacts(The Windsors/Sawards of the world)

    4. CURRENT race drivers

    5. Us, the opinionated internet fans.

    I put current drivers so low because they have a heavily-vested interest to prop up/shoot down their competitors. Hamilton can shun Vettel to excuse his dominance while complimenting Alonso spotlights his 2007 season with him. Vettel downplays the car’s role to legitimize his performances. Chilton lauds his finishing record because that’s all he has (Sorry… :D).

    We casual viewers typically rate performance via results, feedback and, being honest, personality. The dude who wins a lot or pops in fastest laps is best, or those talked about most are best, or the one with the hot girlfriend, funny interviews, or even best looking is best. It’s not a condemnation of us the audience, but as we don’t have a dog in the fight and little knowledge of the sport, we look at whatever media we can get, and human nature then comes into play. Alex Rodriguez is undoubtedly more athletic than the great Hank Aaron ever was, but who in their right mind reveres him more, with Rodriguez’s preening, denials, and insecurity? (I’d insert Bonds here but, showing my biases as a diehard Giants fan…)

    Going further w/ the baseball thing, most of us can throw a baseball or swing a bat; many of us played sport in University and while nothing like being at the World Cup or World Series, organized sport at least gives us a feeling of what our professional heroes undergo. We gain a personal insight into how a catcher sets up for a count or a 3rd baseman shades the foul line for a pull hitter. We can feel the difference between a maple or pine bat at the local store. Most of us don’t have that personal connection to motor racing in general/F1 specifically.

    Sorry for the long rant, but as you know in all the forums, we vehemently trump or put down drivers, and other opinions, thinking ours is best. Just trying to say I agree with you, we can’t say there’s a definitive best, just best in “our opinion.”

    For me, Hamilton has the raw speed and adaptability. Vettel the consistency/work ethic of a robot. Alonso that intangible “it,” ability to rise to all occasions. Kimi the speed over a race distance (clean and fast). Hulkenberg the potential.

    Combine Vettel’s willlingness to develop the car and talk to engineers, Hamilton’s pure talent overtaking and getting the most out of a car in 1 lap and overtaking bravery, Kimi’s assertive yet controlled approach and mechanical sensitivity, andAlonso’s “Big Stage/Big Game” pressure handling and you have a devastating driver, to me.

    Who’s best? Me.

    • No Jeff, I’m still crap…this was written by Jeanpierre…or JP as I like to call him. :) thanks for the compliment and sharing your thoughts.

      • jeff

        Not crap at all, meant to compliment you on the complicated F1 car post and mixed them up.

        Sh*t, have to say a 1000 hail somebody’s.

        • LOL..a thousand hail Bernie’s. :)

          • MIE

            I hate to think how many zeros that would be…

  • Rapierman

    True, there are a myriad number of ways to measure a true champion, but a way to be able to make a determination is “who was able to do the best with what he had”. I posit that they were equal. Your point about Alonso doing the best with what he had is valid, but equally valid is the fact that both men had to learn what the car could do and was capable of doing, and how to get the best out of it. That is why I say that they are equal. There is no argument that Alonso was capable of dragging that car around to finish better than it should have, but that was because he understood what the card does, what its potential was and how he could best get it up there.

    While its true that Vettel’s car was made primarily for winning due to the aerodynamics created by Adrian Newey, Vettel still had to learn what the car could do, what it was capable of doing and how best to get it there, same as Alonso. Given that Vettel practically dominated the series last year by wrapping it up with four races to go, but to win by at least 30 seconds each time. As far as I know, Alonso had that same capacity and was probably the only one with that capacity.

    …..thus, I conclude that they are equal.

  • Tom

    I have to say I find this article somewhat biased. But of course we’re all subjects with subjective opinions, so I guess it’s all right. But let me make a couple of comments and share my own subjective thoughts:

    Quote: “Has anyone really considered why Mark Webber was driving on par with Vettel in 2010 and then the following years fell further and further behind?”

    Actually, it’s quite simple. Seb still lacked some refinement and he made some mistakes. Plus, in 2010, he was the unlucky guy in the team with more technical problems. But even then there was no mistaking who the better driver was.

    Quote: “If I have my facts straight was it not due to Adrian Newey perfecting the blown diffuser? Webber could not come to grips with it. It just did not suit his driving style. On the other hand it suited Vettel’s just fine and he embraced it.”

    That might very well be another factor. However, it’s more than the blown diffuser just being a fit for Vettel. He had to work to make it fit. In fact, Vettel has seen it all: He was fast on Bridgestone tires as well as on Pirellis, he was quick with and without a double diffuser, with and without a blown diffuser, he was quick in the BMW when he was first thrown into F1, he was quick with Toro Rosso and he was quick with Red Bull. The point being: The kid is versatile. Most importantly, he learns fast. He never makes a mistake twice. And he works hard beyond the track, trying to learn as much as he can in order to better his understanding. All of that comes together. So let me make a not so bold prediction: Vettel will be quick in 2014 as well, despite all those new rules as he will be able to adapt and to make the new car another perfect fit.

    Quote: “I wonder what the results between the two would have been like if off-throttle blowing and the black art of the blown diffuser never was developed? We will never know.”

    Actually, we do, there was the 2009 season after all. Vettel was quicker than Webber and beat him in the final standings despite having 5 DNFs to Webber’s 2. He was the only one who could challenge the Brawn cars in that year, and by becoming vice champion, he pushed the car beyond it’s potential. And had it not been for all those DNFs, he might very well have 5 championships under his belt by now.

    So who’s better, Vettel or Alonso? I dunno. But I do have the feeling that Alonso is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, he is a complete driver and might very well be the best on the grid, but I wonder, what is so outstanding about his record? He won two championships while driving the fastest car, so really there’s no difference to Vettel, only that he has less. And the only quality teammate he ever had beat him in his rookie year, barely, sure, but then Alonso wasn’t always playing fair either. And last year, the driver everybody always makes fun of managed to out qualify him 8 (!!!) times. If Alonso has proved anything during his career, it’s that he’s a great politician. But we will see how that will pan out this year, after all, Kimi is still well liked at Ferrari…I mean he has given them a title when Alonso hasn’t…and ironically, Kimi did so in a year where Alonso was driving a car that was clearly far superior. So at least Vettel has converted all those match-points Newey has handed hin, whereas Alonso blew at least one. Also, I think it can be argued whether the Red Bull really was the quickest car in 2012…But be that as it may, I think we can all agree that we’re comparing two exceptional drivers.

    Looking at past merits, I really can’t see much of a difference with the exception that Alonso has had a longer career and hence had more chances to show his skills in a second tier car, whereas Vettel has collected more titles. However, if I was a team boss and I could sign either one of them, I think I’d go for Vettel on age alone…I mean the kid is still only 26, that means he should have his best years still ahead of him…

    • jeff

      The great posts by JM, Mr. Rapierman, and Tom all illustrate the wonder of F1, and the unfortunate way it’s presented, at least here in the States. We either weight comparative analysis (me and other sports), intangibles/character (Mr. Rapierman), or metrics (Tom), and come out with different opinions. F1 offers so much, whether one’s a technical savant, competitive animal, or drama/personality enthusiast.

      If only be it was covered extensively. As the podcast has covered, US-television treats F1 as NASCAR; no disrespect intended, just F1 is a much more technical sport… the car and the driver’s involvement in its evolution is key. We can’t delve into that rabbit hole as much as we likely could to form an “evolved, collated subjective opinion,” so we instead grab the sparse bits of data we do find and form based upon our natural inclinations.

      Either way, the “best” will always be debated w/ little consensus, as we’re all different; me I love watching Senna, but from what I’ve read and little I’ve seen, would rate Fangio better, Ronnie Peterson faster, and Schumacher more complete? Wrong, probably.

      Vettel/Alonso? Equal, but because they’re so very different.

      • Tom

        I wouldn’t say that I rely heavily on metrics alone. They’re strong indicators, but there’s of course more to the whole picture. But in any case, you’re right about the nature of F1 and it being so very facetted.

        What I also find very interesting is when people who know what they are talking about and who see the drivers doing their jobs in the flesh regularly analyze their various approaches to racing.
        That’s probably my favorite part of Peter Windsor’s show. He did an episode late last year where he focused on Vettel and on what it is that makes him so good and they carved out the difference in Vettel’s approach to corners compared to Webber any by extension that of everyone else. It was really fascinating. I wish he (and others) would feature these kinds of analyses more often. What I would find particularly interesting is a comparison of all the great drivers of F1 history…someone with a clue should certainly do that…like: “Here’s a typical example of how Senna drove, vs. here’s how Lauda did it and here’s Schumacher…”
        This could be done by driver, by epoch, by maneuver or by track. All of that would be fascinating. But I’m rambling and I completely changed the subject, so I better stop.

        • jeff

          Yeah, listening to Rob Wilson on Peter Windsor’s shows, Paul/j. Westphal here on F1B, M. Brundle on Sky features, and so on are all so illuminating.

          I like hearing their opinions on who is more “anticipatory” or “reactionary,” who wants a pointer front end or rear-end stability, corner-approach/mid-corner minimum speeds, and V-ing off corners. So fascinating.

  • @_canuck_

    Vettel, Alonso’s Q performance is not as good.

    • Rapierman

      I’m not sure what popularity would have to do with racing skill.

  • mini696

    Alonso is better… At the moment.
    He has come too close in worse machinary for Vettel to be comfortable.

    Lets discuss this in 10 more years after both are retired.

  • All great responses and indeed the very reason for the post. This the kind of examination is what I was interested in and why felt compelled to write it (even if it was to be interpreted as leaning one way or the other). As I mentioned F1 is just so much more than what we commonly see on the weekends and what is reported in the news cycle. Kudos to Tom for making some very valid points in argument to some of mine and Jeff for further pointing out my underlying point in which is: We all see the same thing but usual see it through a different seat of glasses.

    -jp-

    ps – I am going to revisits this topic throughout the season and looking forward to more of this exact kind of discourse.

  • Mike

    Ok, this is my take on this, I find ppl are very unbalanced when they view the 2012 championship, Vettel’s car for the first 2/3’s of that season was not up to par at all, it was unreliable, he failed to score in 3 races, won 1 of the first 12 races and trailed Alonso by over 40 points but he turned it around and yet people like you could only bang on and on and on about Alonso’s DNF in Spa, meanwhile forgetting Vettel had to race from the back of the field in both Abu Dhabi & Brazil towards the end of that season after being shunted by Bruno Senna both times (scoring a 3rd and a 6th place in both cases) the problems Seb had that whole season were 5 times greater than anything Alonso faced, and HE won that title. the fact is Alonso had less DNF’s than Vettel that year, more reliability, more podiums yet Seb won the title and I reiterate – was Vettel’s car all THAT much better than the Ferrari that year? not in my eyes. certainly the difference was great during the 2013 season.

    To me Sebastian has more than proved himself enough and let’s take this into account, RB were not the super team they are now when Seb joined there in 2008, Newey had been there since 2006. Vettel has been breaking records all his life in the sport even before his Red Bull years – youngest driver at a race meet, youngest to score a point (at his 1st ever GP USA 2007 in a Sauber), youngest to lead a F1 race (2007 Japan) and youngest pole & race winner (Monza 2008, amazingly, in a Toro Rosso )

    Alonso has not won a championship for 8 years, my view of him is he is a great Sunday racer but on sheer speed, qualifying he is not.. and that has been shown by a small %age of poles, fastest laps from his entire racing career, he also has an insanely low 15% race win career which is by far the lowest %age among all top10 drivers of all time. Ferrari may not have been as good as the Red Bull but it’s certainly been fast and competitive enough over the years to give Alonso chances to win titles, races and a healthy amount of podiums so let’s not act like he was driving in a tractor racing against Vettel in a rocket ship and remember this little fact, Alonso had no problems beating Mark Webber in the same engine powered Adrian Newey built machine, a fact that seems to escape his and your ilk’s memories on occasion. one of Alonso’s most hilarious (of many) outburts came in 2012 when he spat “we are racing against Newey”, I thought well, you are doing Ok because you are a mile ahead of Mark Webber, just a pity Sebastian Vettel has totally trumped you for the past 5 seasons.

    • MIE

      Alonso could have won the title in 2012 if he had given Raikkonen more room on the run down to the first corner in Suzuka. Instead, he crowded the Lotus more so than Grosjean did to Hamilton at Spa, and although the resulting puncture was not as spectacular as the crash in Belgium, it was just as damaging to his championship.

  • mike

    I just wanted to add, as a poster above had pointed out in his great piece… Alonso has been Mr Political his whole career, great and very just comment. he is a teamate wrecker and at his peak – he lost to Hamilton in his rookie year in that McLaren, that is a stat he cannot cover up (although he tried)

    but really was Seb’s RB the fastest car in 2010 and 2012? again I don’t believe so. in both those years I actually think McLaren was the fastest car and they may be proven with more wins and pole positions. Vettel never gets the credit for those 2 titles, people’s memories are just like – yeah Seb won 4 titles all racing in an unbeatable Newey Red Bull. those were also maybe the 2 most entertaining seasons, certainly many view 2010 as the greatest season ever when 4 drivers went for the title in the last race – and who was it that drove spectacularly that whole weekend to take it all? a young Sebastian Vettel

    it annoys me so much how much discredit he gets for winning and how much praise Alonso gets for basically, not winning.

  • MIE

    Why concentrate on those two drivers, there are three other World Champions racing currently (and potentially some more who could win in the years to come)?

    Arguably Alonso had a more subserviant driver as his number two during his two championship seasons, and he was only competing against Schumacher who knew what it was like to win a World Championship. Webber, although beaten by Vettel has not been a willing number two, and the level of competition amongst the drivers is arguable greater now than it was in 2005-6.

    Perhaps this year will be the first since Vettel won the title that he doesn’t have a front running car (at least for the first few races). We may then be in a better position to judge how he copes with adversity. However with 32 days to go before the first race of the season, there is no guarantee that the Red Bull won’t be the class of the field again.

  • Brian

    I like the rhetorical approach, so perhaps I will ask anopther question: Fernando Alonso, age 32 with 216 starts and 12 seasons in F1. Sebastien Vettel, age 26 with 120 starts and 6 seasons in F1. If we are rating the driver and drivers grow better with experience (until age becomes more important), why compare them now? Aren’t you severely handicapping Vettel?

    Also, when you’re car is at the top, how do you prove yourself? Whenever Vettel finds himself down, he seems just as capable of out performing his situation (slower car, bad strategy call, recovery from his own errors). In the past few seasons, Alonso just got to do it more, because he has chosen to stick with an underperformning Ferrari team.

    I imagine rose-colored nostalgia also makes these comparisons difficult. Alonso won his championships in 2005 and 2006. If you discount some of Vettel’s championships because of the car tech, then you kind of have to knockout 2006 for Alonso because of the advantage provided by the “Mass Damper”, just look at the race immediately following its ban. The 2005 championship can’t be written off so quickly, but it is tough to ignore the advantage that Renault had at the start of the season that put them into such a prime position. If I remember correctly, by the time Monza came around, the title was Alonso’s to lose.

    Personally, on top of all this, Alonso has been tied to so many issues off track, that it puts a bad taste in my mouth. He seems so desperate to get any advantage, that for an outside observer, I can’t help but question many of his stats.

  • Schmorbraten

    Given these questions, I’d say that Vettel is really unlucky because he wasn’t (like Alonso) given the chance over the last years to show that he could nearly win in a (supposedly) second-rate car against someone else in the (supposedly) best car. For the Vettel-haters, it seems, for example, a given that Alonso got the best out of the Ferrari, 100.0 % (don’t get me started on the “I gave it 1xx percent” blurbs). Really? Says who? It’s absolutely possible that Vettel could have extracted even more speed from it, and there’s just no way of knowing or proving one way or the other, so it’s a moot speculation. And who can prove that Alonso would have even come close to what Vettel managed to extract from the Red Bulls, let alone Alonso being even faster with it? It’s all about a priori judgements of talent level. The core of the assessment coming from Vettel-haters goes something like ‘Whatever car is the most successful, a) it’s not possible that the driver contributed significantly to its development or fine-tuning and b) whoever is driving it has to be second rate.’ Agree to this and the conclusion is right there: Alonso has lost out over the last years, and therefore he simply has to be better than Vettel.

  • You pose a difficult question to answer because it depends on what you mean by “best”. The simple answer, and a valid one in my humble opinion, is he who produces the greatest results given the constraints at the time. Senna comes out on top in many different polls not because he has won more than Schumacher, but because he drove the wheels off every car he sat in to achieve superior results. It is the same reason that Alonso is highly rated today despite not winning much of anything recently. Those that transcend machines and still win are revered. It proves it is not just the machine. Vettel may be brilliant, but he has clearly been in a superior car.

    With that said, time has a way of reducing things to simple results. Lots of drivers are on the list of greats because they have a talley of wins and trophies. We forget who came in second and who had a brilliant drive from 14th to finish 3rd. We forget who was truly brilliant, but never ended up in a top competitive car. We forget who won the championship only because of team orders. It is a shame, but decades from now, Vettel will be on every list, while Alonso may not…