The difference between a champion and a leader – reflections on the #F1 season so far

October 13, 2011

There is no question that Sebastian Vettel is a worthy driver’s champion for 2011. He had the best car, but he rarely put a wheel wrong, and so his title is undoubtedly well deserved. I do feel that Sebastian, like Lewis before him, is very much a champion who, although a worthy champion, is still highly dependent on the support of the team for the title, this I would contrast to other champions who really lead their teams to victory. It is the difference between someone who is dependent on the team for their success and someone the team is dependent upon, someone who brings the team up with them.

I guess the contrast I would draw would be the difference between Michael Schumacher at Benetton where supported by Flavio Briatore, Ross Brawn and others he achieved two world championships, here he was a champion, but not a leader. In contrast, during Michael’s time at Ferrari he played a very key role in turning round the whole organisation , becoming the catalyst for change and winning the greatest number of championships that have ever been won, Michael grew from being a champion to being a leader. Similarly, I would also put Fernando Alonso in the leader category, he played a key role in the success of Renault in the 2005/6 seasons and has gone on, with a brief blip at McLaren, to do the same at Ferrari. If we look back into previous champions individuals like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Jackie Stewart all fit with the leadership role. The interesting question for me is where Jenson Button is on this, in many ways he seems to be stepping up to the leadership role this season, not only through his performance on the track but his demeanour, his confidence, his approach are all suggesting something stronger than a driver who just gets in the car and performs on the track.

So the obvious thing for Sebastian to do now, or certainly in a year or two, is to move to a new team that needs a leader and see if he can shift up a gear from being world champion, not easy, but some have done it. Who knows, like Michael at Ferrari, he may even persuade Adrian Newey to come with him.

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