Sebastian Vettel was the king of Formula One for four-straight seasons, leaving the rest of the drivers on the circuit trailing in his wake. The German joined only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher to win the Drivers’ Championship four times on the spin when he lifted the crown in the 2013 season.
He seemed destined to carve out an unmatched legacy that not even Schumacher reached during his illustrious career such was his dominance on the track. However, the 29-year-old has been surpassed by Lewis Hamilton over the past three years due to Mercedes rise at the top of the sport.
Vettel, along with every other man behind the wheel, has been unable to cope with the quality and speed of Mercedes, which has left them almost untouchable on the circuit. Red Bull made slight inroads in the 2016 campaign, claiming wins with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, although they were powerless to watch their rivals claim the Constructors' Championship.
As a result of Mercedes stranglehold at the top, the rest of the teams, especially Ferrari, have a long way to close the gap. Vettel will have to produce a fine season to match Hamilton at the top of the leaderboard, being backed in the latest bet365 Formula One betting odds at 12/1 to win the Drivers’ Championship next term.
Since winning his fourth Championship in 2013, the 29-year-old has failed to muster a competitive challenge for the crown, allowing Hamilton to close within one title of his record. Both men are striving to become the best driver of the current era and the balance of power is now in favour of the Brit after the German enjoyed his dominance when Red Bull were the team at the top.
Vettel lost patience with the team he enjoyed so much success with in the 2014 campaign, opting to leave at the end of his contract following a year of immense struggle. That season he was forced to retire three times, while he also failed to win a race for the first time since 2007, leading to a fifth-place finish and his eventual move to Ferrari.
He displayed the shoots of recovery in 2015 with the Italian team, although he was still off the pace to match Hamilton and Rosberg throughout the season, finishing behind them in third place. However, his three wins in Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore proved that Ferrari were making strides to attempt to match Mercedes at the top.
Before the 2016 campaign Vettel and his side were hopeful of making a stride for the crown, only to finish in fourth place without a victory, while in the Constructors' Championship the team finished behind Red Bull due to the talent of Ricciado and Verstappen. For the year ahead Vettel, not only has to overhaul Hamitlon and his new team-mate, but also the Red Bull duo to have any hope of claiming his fifth championship.
The odds are stacked against him and the fact that his car has lacked durability and speed over time will be a concern for the German. He was linked with a move to join Hamilton at Mercedes, but insisted that he is committed to Ferrari. It could well be a make-or-break season for Vettel and should he watch the Brit equal his number of crowns in 2017 it may be enough to end his tenure at the Italian outfit.