GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Blog by Race Chaser Online Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Mark Thompson/Getty Images AsiaPac photo — At the scheduled start time for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, the city of Suzuka will be slammed with Super Typhoon Phanfone, threatening safety around the nation with winds of 150mph and threatening the race with the promise of torrential rain and winds capable of downing trees.
One day prior however, it was not the typhoon but a metaphorical seismic shakeup of Formula One that sent shockwaves through the entire sport.
Confirmed through official statements, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is leaving Red Bull for Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso is believed to be leaving Ferrari for a return to McLaren.
At 20 years old and too young to graduate from college, Daniil Kvyat is graduating from Toro Rosso to fill Vettel’s seat at Red Bull.
Take a minute to let that sink in…or longer if you need it. One day removed from the media frenzy and the chaos created by the announcement, the magnitude has still barely sunk in.
Flashback to the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix, the final race of Vettel’s fourth consecutive world title clinching season. Standing on the top step of the podium, it would have been inconceivable to believe then that the German raised through the Red Bull family would depart just a year later, possibly without winning another Grand Prix.
One year can make quite a difference. Once on top of the world, Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel have struggled mightily in 2014, with the German actually finishing behind his teammate Daniel Ricciardo ten times. Similarly, Ferrari has fallen upon difficult times as well, not winning a Grand Prix since the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013 and failing to secure victories with both team drivers since Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa helped Ferrari secure their last Constructors’ Championship in 2008.
Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Captivated by the allure of Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel’s rise and reign in Formula One mirrors his idol Michael Schumacher more and more every day.
Schumacher joined the grid in 1991 at 21 and shined as a substitute for the emerging Benetton team, taking the sport by storm with a string of positive results a year before taking his first victory. Likewise, the 20 year old Vettel bloomed at Toro Rosso and brought finished as high as fourth at the Chinese Grand Prix in his first season before becoming a winner at Monza one year later and earning a call up to Red Bull Racing.
It’s appropriate that Vettel’s first career victory came at the Italian Grand Prix. Situated just a short drive away from the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, the spectacle of the Ferrari faithful, known as the tifosi, can have a profound effect on anyone lucky enough to witness it. Crowding the track below the podium for post-race celebrations, a sea of scarlet and prancing horse emblems wave through the air in unison with the rhythm of the Italian National Anthem.
The view from the elevated podium at Monza is a formative experience, a sight that can leave even the most outspoken stars of the sport breathless. Schumacher made his first trip to the podium there in 1992, and despite only finishing third on a Ferrari-less podium, one has to wonder whether the seed may have been sewn in his mind that afternoon.
Basking in the glory of a pair of victories in Italy in 2011 and 2013, there’s a little less left to the imagination about Sebastian Vettel’s attraction to Ferrari. Standing alongside Fernando Alonso each time, there was a noticeable gleam in his eye as the Spaniard pointed out into the crowd alongside Sebastian. Some, such as NBC’s Steve Matchett, a former mechanic at Benetton during the Schumacher years, speculated that Vettel to Ferrari was only a matter of time — the clock began ticking on the Monza podium.
Schumacher was already a star at Benetton in the mid-1990s, winning back to back world titles with the British racing outlet in 1994 and 1995. Beating rival drivers and constructors, Schumacher was on top and poised for even more success. The storied Ferrari team had not strung together multiple victories in a season since 1990, a team desperately needing to snap their streak of mediocrity. Still, the promise of a new challenge and a legacy larger than life that will live on long after a career is finished is an opportunity that only comes once — when Ferrari calls, you listen.
At 27 years old, Schumacher stepped into a Ferrari for the first time and proceeded to win five more titles, catapulting his career to legendary form. Now, aged 27 as well and already with four championships and 39 victories to his name, Sebastian Vettel will join the likes of legends in the Ferrari seat.
Alberto Ascari. Juan Manuel Fangio. Niki Lauda. Michael Schumacher. Like the manufacturer, these names have a special ring to them, defined by dominance and glory at the pinnacle of motorsport. The Scuderia simply rolls off the tongue better than the name of an energy drink.
Success in sport is cyclical, and trying times finishing behind their rivals have troubled Ferrari recently. Yet the church bells in Maranello joyously rang on Sundays for eleven years, symbolizing Ferrari victories and the rising of a German icon to eternally join the racing gods.
One day soon, the church bells in Maranello will ring again, and Sebastian Vettel hopes to be next in line to achieve racing immortality.