Ferrari’s decision, during the pandemic-induced pre-season hiatus, to dispense with the services of four-times champion Sebastian Vettel’s at the end of 2020, looked like a risky call at the time.
How far Vettel’s poor season may have been a product of these circumstances – whether due to the practical consequence of becoming ‘yesterday’s man’ in Ferrari’s eyes, or simply his head dropping – is a matter for conjecture. The matter for these driver rankings is just how bad a season it was for him. And truly, its bright spots were very few and far between.
Having seen Charles Leclerc turn the tables on him over the course of last season, Vettel was walloped by hit younger team mate in 2020. He took the lowest points share of any driver, despite seeing the chequered flag more times than his team mate (though one of his two retirements was caused by Leclerc).
Unlike Alexander Albon or Nicholas Latifi, Vettel managed to snatch a few wins in qualifying over his team mate, though typically by a few hundredths of a second. On average Vettel qualified over four tenths of a second slower than Leclerc, and he made just three of Ferrari’s 14 appearances in Q3.
The upshot was he typically qualified around four places behind his team mate. As the pair usually straddled the Q2/Q3 divide, this meant Vettel tended to enjoy the advantage of starting on new tyres, unlike his team mate. Indeed he started 11th on the grid – ‘new tyre pole’ – twice as often as any other driver.
But this advantage did little to help Vettel tip the balance of power his way. Leclerc finished higher than 10th on nine occasions; Vettel did so just twice.
Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and
Yes, there were times when Ferrari’s odd strategic calls didn’t help matters, or poor pit work spoiled his afternoon, such as at Imola. But Vettel did his own cause no favours at times, spinning during the races at Silverstone and the Nurburgring, and crashing during qualifying in Russia.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||4/17|
|Beat team mate in race||3/13|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||215/800|
In an abject season for Ferrari, there were times when Leclerc wasn’t able to beat one of their customer rivals, but this happened considerably more often to Vettel. Had it not been for a late red flag at Mugello he would probably have been beaten to the final point by George Russell’s Williams.
Hungary was one of Vettel’s stand-out performances. He urged the team to fit medium tyres at his pit stop which put him on course for sixth place, though he wasn’t able to keep Albon behind.
The undoubted high point of his final year as a Ferrari driver came at Istanbul, where Vettel demonstrated his class by taking his first podium finish for more than a year in very difficult conditions. This came about thanks to a last-lap misjudgement by Leclerc, as he ran wide ahead of Vettel while trying to take second place off Sergio Perez.
These circumstances take nothing away from Vettel’s performance on that day. But over the course of the race Leclerc had closed in a 44-second deficit to his team mate and overtaken him. Even at the high point of Vettel’s awful season, the scale of Leclerc’s raw performance superiority was hard to overlook.
Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and
2020 F1 season review
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #2: Max Verstappen
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #3: Charles Leclerc
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #4: Carlos Sainz Jnr
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #5: Daniel Ricciardo
99 comments on “2020 F1 driver rankings #19: Sebastian Vettel”
12th January 2021, 12:22
Sad, but fair i’d say
12th January 2021, 13:15
Yeah, it is harsh, but I can’t offer a serious counter argument. I think maybe Albon was worse, but it is really close.
It likely seems worse for him because the expectations were so high.
Pironi the Provocateur (@pironitheprovocateur)
12th January 2021, 12:23
Of course, excuses will stay excuses, but I still think that with his end in Ferrari even before the season began, Vettel’s season was written off long ago. Fans ridiculing him for losing a lot of time on Leclerc have an interesting, one-dimensional perception of reality where they probably can’t see the complexity of the sport, because it’s common practice to cut drivers off from the development once they decide to leave the team. And with a dog of a car like Ferrari had, it’s far more distinctive. The focus was clearly on Leclerc and Vettel had to just somehow finish the season. We’ll see his real potential in the first six or seven races of the next season.
Tony Mansell (@tonymansell)
12th January 2021, 16:39
It certainly sounds one dimensional not to look at his failure in combat, his ‘seb spins’ and his lacklustre qually and racing. Ferrari are not going to give him an inferior car and hes been their long enough not to need wet nursing.
Having said that, Leclerc is probably better than we think and Seb is suffering from that comparison. He reminds me a bit of Piquet, you wondered towards the end of his career how he ever won so many WDCs and age does wither some quicker than others. A busted flush by any definition but one who I hope has a renaissance in AMR
12th January 2021, 18:32
@tonymansell to some extent, Piquet has indicated that the decline in performance was partially due to the concussion he suffered during the 1987 San Marino GP, which left him with permanent brain damage and also caused long running psychological issues.
That said, he has also suggested that Honda probably were biased in his favour when he was at Williams – something that some did suspect was the case at the time – because they saw him as more commercially valuable than Mansell. There are also the long lingering questions over his 1983 title and the legality of the BT52, where the team were caught breaching the fuel regulations at least three times that season, but the rules were bent to avoid a disqualification.
MEGATRON M12 (@megatron)
12th January 2021, 21:00
Agreed, Piquet also had a bad back from a crash. Vettel has no excuse for a decline, but he really didn’t decline, he has always been mistake and crash prone his entire career.
12th January 2021, 21:24
@tonymansell yeah Piquet has spoken openly about how he struggled with depth perception and other issues in the last few years but he was doing it for the money by the end. I think there was an attempt Indy 500 after F1 also where he knew he couldn’t be competitive.
Again he had commercial value hence sponsorship, and was never massively outclassed by his teammates, if he’d stuck around long enough alongside Schumacher I think the gig would’ve up very quickly
12th January 2021, 22:15
Yes, Piquet did go to Indy after F1. He had a bad crash in practice in 1992 and smashed his foot and ankle up, but he returned the following year and qualified for the race, but retired fairly early on with a blown engine.
12th January 2021, 22:31
Legend has it the red-flagging of practice bagged his teammate pole
12th January 2021, 12:33
Fact Check: Vettel finished higher than 10th 3 times, not twice. (Hungary, Spain, Turkey).
12th January 2021, 12:39
Pedro Alberti (@pedroalberti)
12th January 2021, 12:45
Very harsh but also very fair. It was a very tough and sad season for him, unfortunately. At least his peaks of performance were really good (Hungary, Spain, and Turkey). This is why he is a bit further ahead on my rankings than on Keith’s.
12th January 2021, 12:48
Objectively speaking, the article is fair to him. But we are talking a 4 time world champion, damn it! And what a downfall he has (only Vielleneuve and D. Hill were worse) and he was the worst of all drivers in 2020. In my opinion, his decline has begun since Hockenheim 2018 after throwing away a victory.
Unlike Kimi or Alonso he does not have any charisma or marketability and people will forget him next year while he is even active. He would beat Stroll by smallest of margins and Racin Point is the final station for him in F1. Stroll sr. will rue his decision signing him.
12th January 2021, 13:00
Have a look at Jody Scheckter’s 1980 season and reconsider that statement…
F1 frog (@f1frog)
12th January 2021, 13:04
Jody Scheckter’s poor 1980 season was mainly due to the slow Ferrari, and he wasn’t far off Giles Villeneuve. Sebastian Vettel has been utterly dominated by Charles Leclerc this year. However, I do believe that he will improve in 2021 and will be a top ten driver at least, maybe even top five.
MEGATRON M12 (@megatron)
12th January 2021, 21:02
Vettel was utterly dominated in 2019 as well
12th January 2021, 14:01
Thank you for correcting me. I should have said in recent 30 years ;-)
14th January 2021, 0:21
That jacques villeneuve drove terribly later on in his career is a myth, and I say this as a schumacher fan, and certainly the 2 didn’t like each other. As you can find in mathematical models, villeneuve continued to perform like at his peak, it’s just he had worse cars, check how he demolished his team mates.
12th January 2021, 13:00
Not sure I agree with that. He may not have charisma or marketability but in my opinion (and Ive never been much of a fan) he has grown into the elder stateman of F1. Most of his interviews last year were informative, knowledgeable, interesting and thought provoking. Hopefully with Grosjean gone he will play a more public role in the GPDA. Out of all the drivers I see him being the most likely to take some role within F1 post his racing career. Whether he would want that is another matter.
12th January 2021, 16:33
Bit harsh to say he has no charisma or marketability.
He may not be the most famous driver because he doesn’t use social media but he’s always entertaining in interviews, rarely boring and quite charismatic.
Fer no.65 (@fer-no65)
12th January 2021, 18:18
@sl300forf1 does he care? he seems very cool about not being in the spotlight these days, he’s very relaxed and knowledgeable. He’s by far the biggest nerd on F1 on the grid, and he loves racing in it. He’s not in it for recognition. Alonso loves that, Kimi’s just a walking meme but he also doesn’t care for it.
I don’t see why people write him off. I can totally see him refreshed in a new, calmer environment this year. Ferrari eats people alive…
13th January 2021, 8:18
Don’t know how calm Lawrence Stroll is / will be unless he delivers …… he s up against a really great year that Perez has and will be measured directly against this yardstick ……
12th January 2021, 23:22
Lack of charisma? How do you weight it? You really don’t imagine how many Ferrari fans are becoming Aston Martin Fans.
Ben Needham (@ben-n)
12th January 2021, 13:09
I think both Vettel and Ferrari acted foolishly at the start of the season and mutual disappointment was assured. At points it seemed like Vettel was having to drive the car and do his own strategy at the same time. At points Vettel seemed unnecessarily harsh and outspoken against the team that was still paying his wages. In short, neither helped each other this year and the result was deservedly the worst placing in a long time for both parties.
Vettel is a lot better than he was able to show in 2020 and I’m looking forward to seeing how he can refresh his performances in a new team and likely better car in 2021. In my opinion, he’s a likeable character when things are going well for him, so I’d like to see him back amongst the wins and podiums.
12th January 2021, 13:11
Baku road rage banging wheels with Hamilton. For me that was when the inside of himself (or the inside of Ferrari’s politics) surfaced for all of us to see.
I can imagine the post race debriefing, the FIA sanction threatening over his head, and how much psychological advantage he gave Hamilton by loosing his temper.
From there, it was downhill. Leclerc only cemented what was already coming.
Traces of what may have caused Vettel’s perfect storm at Ferrari could be seen in that race (help me out here if someone remembers which one), when Vettel overtook a slow car on the pit lane entry, by driving halfway on the grass. Arrivabene later stated that ” that’s why we pay him that much money”. Sounded to me like trying to justify something to someone.
12th January 2021, 13:22
Baku had a huge impact on Vettel – one he may not admit.
Broderick Harper (@banbrorace)
12th January 2021, 15:46
Baku’s an excellent shout out. Previous to that Vettel’s Ferrari career had been as good as any legend could have got out of it. Suddenly he’d put pressure on himself with that outburst and so his ridiculous charge at the start of Singapore was the continuation and the result is then a Championship he could have won
Hockenheim a year later, was inevitable
12th January 2021, 16:08
Here you are: https://www.formula1.com/en/video/2020/5/Classic_Overtake__Vettel%27s_dicey_pit_lane_overtake.html
13th January 2021, 9:29
China I guess.
Mr Thomas P Cullen
14th January 2021, 22:15
Downfall was in Italy. He was ahead in the title fight and the te should have backed him. Allowing Kimi to get the quali advantage was foolish and forced Vettel into a silly mistake. Comes back to win Spa in a dominant fashion and then do then same in Germay only for Ferrari to leave him stuck behind Kimi for too long, adding pressure and forcing another silly mistake. His performance really slumped when Sergio died and Ferrari stopped nurturing him.
12th January 2021, 13:12
I can’t believe you put Leclerc ahead of Vettel. Vettel was miles better. This list is rubbish and you clearly don’t know anything about F1. I’m never visiting this website again. In fact I’m never using the internet again. I hope you’re happy, “Keith”, if that is your real name; you’ve ruined my life.
12th January 2021, 14:50
it’s déjà vu all over again
Jimmi Cynic (@jimmi-cynic)
12th January 2021, 20:56
I just returned to the internet after a near decade long absence to be greeted with the declaration of your ruination. I’m happy to act as your racefans proxy – if the situation improves (it won’t), will let you know.
Enjoy your hours of internet exile – they will fly by. We who remain envy your new freedom from the boredom of DRS train tedium.
Also… well played! ;-)
12th January 2021, 22:41
I hope you understand that I’ll stay active another day to accept my CotD award.
Jimmi Cynic (@jimmi-cynic)
13th January 2021, 0:05
Understood, @coldfly. I’ve already voted for your prestigious CoTD award. And equally effective, have yelled at the clouds for you.
However, since your life is already ruined, doubt that fleeting recognition will compensate for the grievous treatment you’ve received at the hands of the powers that be. We can only hope those hands were properly washed before you were treated.
12th January 2021, 13:13
Hard to not argue he was not in the bottom quarter of drivers this year. I think a complete lack of motivation pretty much stopped any chance of him performing. In fairness he did well to hold his tongue all year about Ferrari when others would definitely have thrown more blame their way.
While last year was bad, I think his behaviour has given him some credit so any reasonable performance next year will not damage his legacy too much. Probably find out more about the year in his autobiography when he’s finished racing.
12th January 2021, 13:15
Vettel’s season was failry similar to Kimi’s disappointed 2014.
Tony Mansell (@tonymansell)
12th January 2021, 16:42
14th January 2021, 0:25
I think his similarity compared to the raikkonen of the last ferrari years is the running joke: “he has like 3 good races a year, rest terrible”, raikkonen used to be like him.
12th January 2021, 13:26
2015 – first season with Ferrari, ranked 1 in this website’s driver rankings
2020 – last season with Ferrari, ranked 19 in this website’s driver rankings
What. A. Contrast.
12th January 2021, 16:23
2015 – Full head of hair.
2020 – Full comb-over.
13th January 2021, 16:52
I would say both were wrong. Vettel did better than #19 in the 2020 season and he was not even close to the best in 2015.
14th January 2021, 0:26
Does this perhaps mean he was 3rd in 2015 and a little behind 10th place in 2020? Cause if so that’s exactly what the points given in a season show!
14th January 2021, 13:36
@esploratore I would put him 6th or so in 2015 and for 2020 around 15 or 16
16th January 2021, 22:01
Vettel was quite comfortably the best in 2015.
This was not only agreed upon by Keith but also by the fans on this website who voted
Even the British media all rated him top
Not that it was a big achievements because the driving standards in 2015 were fairly low, but Vettel was the best of an OK bunch.
17th January 2021, 14:47
@kingshark People thought he was best because he was the closest behind the actual best. Since then we know Vettel really isn;t all that great. We now know that with a proper driver in that team that car could have done a lot better.
12th January 2021, 13:29
I’ve been Vettel’s critic for many years and I’ve somehow turned into a supporter. The way he has handled this season has been nothing short of amazing in terms of character. Sure, he questioned the car here and there but, by and large, he’s blamed himself and given credit to Leclerc.
Without the podium in Turkey he would have scored 18 points. That’s too little for a Ferrari – it’s more in line with an Alfa Romeo.
12th January 2021, 13:34
Oh, and what was the penalty assigned to Ferrari for breaking the regs in the secret deal with the FIA? Ferrari didn’t lose earnings, didn’t lose points…
Did they punish Ferrari by forbidding the consumption of spaghetti over 2020?:)
There’s only 1 meaningful penalty you can pay in F1 and that’s scoring 18 points….
12th January 2021, 13:29
This is a quite fair judgement because this list is mostly based on what everyone is expecting from a certain driver. The less you satisfy those conditions the more you drop down the order. But I will say this, whether Leclerc is a better driver than him or not, it must be difficult stay motivated when your team decides in the beginning of the season that they don’t want you. The declaration of the decision very early on (even though I imagine was inevitable to make at that time due its domino effect) doomed both Ferrari and Vettel’s image…
12th January 2021, 13:33
Unless I’m very much mistaken. I am very much mistaken. Vettel is 19th! I dared 18th but 19th is just that little bit worse. Next prediction not only Sainz jr is 3rd but also obviously ahead of Leclerc.
12th January 2021, 13:49
Fair ranking. I assume Albon will be up next.
12th January 2021, 22:29
What? I really don’t rate Albon but he, as Vettel, had *some* not so bad moments,…
What did Grosjean do all year besides almost burning to death? It is literally the only time he came up as far as i recall?
How can he not make bottom two places? And for that matter, did Magnussen do anything noteworthy besides Hungary?
13th January 2021, 10:29
you can actually only compare 1 driver with his teammate. Both Vettel and Albon underperformed relative to their teammate.
I think Grosjean and Magnussen performed equally good, average or bad, but maybe their performance was mainly down to the car. Where you can see Vettel and Albon not getting the best out of the car.
I don’t know what has more weight in the comparison between drivers of different teams, I think the relation to their teammate is more important
12th January 2021, 13:58
Kind of expected #19 to go either to Vettel or Albon.
To be honest.. I think Albon deserves the #19 spot far more than Vettel does. Albon got lucky to get a podium this year even though he had a car to fight for podiums nearly every weekend. Vettel also got a little lucky with his podium but he never had a car to battle for the podium. Vettel also did manage to outqualify Leclerc 3 times this season, and was close on a couple of more occasions, Albon never looked remotely close to Verstappen.
If I had to choose, the bottom 5 for the season would be –
12th January 2021, 15:25
19th is well deserved for Vettel who is the second highest paid driver on the grid after Hamilton. Albon get 10 times less than Vettel’s salary and still manages to do more or less the same job.
12th January 2021, 16:08
I don’t think we should transform a driver ranking into a Value for Money review, @tifoso1989.
I don’t even think that we should include experience and certainly not the cars they drive (other than that a worse car might require more skills to finish higher up).
But this already makes it difficult to compare Latifi (bad car), Vettel (lots of experience), and Albon (good car).
12th January 2021, 18:09
I agree – the money a driver gets paid or pays a team should not be relevant in a review of the driver’s ranking compared to other drivers during the season. The objective of the ranking is not to determine if we should hire the driver.
14th January 2021, 13:38
@todfod Indeed. I would say that it’s difficult to rank within that group. I would put them all shared #16th.
12th January 2021, 14:07
Biggest low, biggest blow.
12th January 2021, 14:19
Totally fair. He was awful. I see loads of people on the internet predicting wins for him this season with Aston – I don’t see it happening. I must admit I never liked him since 2010 onwards, so it’s not really a surprise to me to see him shown up. A prediction that some would call bold but I don’t think is outlandish based on current form: he’ll be beaten by Stroll.
14th January 2021, 0:30
I agree with it based on current form, and I don’t consider stroll terrible, but a decent midfielder; however, as strong as the red bulls he drove were, I think if he went back to his 2009-2013 form he should be able to beat him, it’s just I have a hard time predicting how much of the performance was due to demotivation and how much was cause he’s an overrated driver.
Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
12th January 2021, 14:39
If Vettel is this low, I honestly can’t see how Leclerc will be much more than 10 places higher. And many people have considered him a great drive this year which I don’t think was the case.