Former Ferrari and Williams engineer Rob Smedley believes Sebastian Vettel’s 2019 season was his best yet and says his comeback toward the end of the season is “the sign of a true champion”.
“I think his best year in Formula 1 is, I’m going to get hammered for this, was last year, it was 2019,” Smedley told the F1 Nation podcast.
It’s an assessment many people probably wouldn’t agree with given Vettel is a four-time World Champion and drove flawlessly in his early years to deliver those titles, unlike recent seasons with Ferrari were he has been error prone.
But Smedley says the fact Vettel was able to fight back after initially being rattled by the arrival of Charles Leclerc, is a hard thing to do and is a “the sign of a true champion”.
“I think he faced the biggest challenge of his career that year, and everybody kind of wrote him off because it was the easy thing to do.
“I think we saw the real Sebastian Vettel towards the end of the year. Sebastian had been a little bit lost, and I’m sure he’d freely admit that he wasn’t where he wanted to be, both within the team and with his team-mate at the start of the year, but then he actually got his head down, and that’s the sign of a true champion, he came back.”
The pressure Vettel faced last year is nothing like he’s faced before, added Smedley.
“Sebastian had all the pressure, there’s no doubt about it…I think that’s the most pressure he’s probably ever had in his career, and he’s been against good drivers, he’s been against world champions.
“He dominated Kimi [Raikkonen], with Mark [Webber] at Red Bull, who’s absolutely no slouch.
“But I’m just not sure that he’s ever had the challenge that he had in 2019, so for him to cope with that, and to come back and kind of stamp his authority after a shaky start, I personally think we saw something special.”