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April 27, 2014

Four races in the 2014 Formula 1 season and the start has not been anything impressive for the quadruple world champion, who entered the season after a record nine wins in a row in 2013. A retirement in Australia, an inspiring third place in Malaysia – a respectable sixth in Bahrain followed by a disappointing sixth after ranking third in China – sees Sebastian Vettel in uncharted territory and at risk of not retaining his title for the fifth year in a row.

The issues facing Vettel and the Red Bull team relate to revolutionary new engine regulations in place this season, in which 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 units replace normally aspirated 2.4-liter V8 engines. The move has put a heavy responsibility on cooling the Energy Recovery System (ERS) and turbocharger units that put out around 160 bhp for about 33 seconds per lap. Reliability was expected to be a major concern with this change, and during winter testing in January and February this was confirmed. Renault-powered engines suffered the most and lagged miles behind Mercedes-powered teams, and Vettel’s car had battery problems related to the ERS unit.

The problems continued during winter testing and in the first round of the season. Vettel struggled early in Australia and was forced to retire after just three laps due to engine problems. Fifteen days later in Malaysia, Red Bull made progress with the car and Vettel made a strong push to finish third, but he was still a long way off the pace, finishing 24.5 seconds behind race winner Lewis Hamilton. Straight-line speed issues in Bahrain and China saw Vettel finish sixth in both races, and behind new teammate Daniel Ricciardo in both races.

There is no denying the record-breaking talent and ability of Vettel, yet Formula 1 fans turned against him in 2013 complaining that his dominance was making the sport boring. He was repeatedly greeted with boos on the podium and his sympathy waned, for no other reason than that he was unbeatable. This year, Vettel’s dominance is no longer there as he battles the seemingly unbeatable Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and battles Ricciardo, who is faster and possibly hungrier than he is.

So what does the rest of 2014 hold for the world champion? Certainly Red Bull has made more progress with the Vettel car than was originally anticipated at this stage of the season. Having points on the board for Vettel seems like a minor miracle after his problem plagued winter testing sessions. But there is still a long way to go before Vettel is competitive not only against Mercedes, but also against his new teammate.

This year, the world champion faces the biggest challenge of his career to date as he struggles to adapt to and understand the new generation of cars and at the same time is repeatedly outmatched by a new teammate. Vettel had the advantage over former teammate Mark Webber, but Ricciardo is not easy and has quickly shown the world that he has earned his place at Red Bull. Vettel is frustrated and his frustration shows in his driving.

This year your car has a lower downforce level than you are used to and you are still not comfortable in the RB10. However, unlike previous years where updates later in the season worked to their advantage, this year there doesn’t seem to be a way for Red Bull to repeat the level of downforce that Vettel prefers, and it is struggling to adapt its riding style. driving to fit the lower grip new car.

Winning builds confidence, but losing builds character, and Vettel faces a true test of character right now. He has yet to succeed in Formula 1 with an uncompetitive car and he faces a battle both physically and mentally to get used to the new car and gain an advantage over Ricciardo. Vettel would certainly rather win than lose, however losing is instructive as it is losses that lead to improvement and a greater desire to succeed. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

History dictates that anything can happen in Formula 1. In 2010, when Vettel won his first championship, the first five races of the season yielded five different winners, and Vettel himself won just four races with six additional podiums to earn his first title. If Vettel defies the odds and organizes the return of all comebacks to win a fifth title in a row this year, critics can no longer say that he won just because he was driving the fastest car. He will be a champion and few will be able to doubt him and his ability. But if Red Bull’s problems persist and Vettel continues to fight for the podiums this year, then he will learn a lot about himself. The challenges he faces this season are character building and ultimately they will make him an even better driver and a much tougher competitor. After all, a true champion can adapt to anything.

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