Last week, Sir Jackie Stewart suggested that Sebastian Vettel could not yet be regarded as one of the greats of Formula 1. The Scotsman, a three-times world champion and often seen as a pivotal figure in the history of the sport, referred to Vettel's possession of a dominant, or at least highly competitive, car during much of his tenure in Grand Prix racing as supporting this contention. I appreciate that I am a bit late to this story, but here are my thoughts....
My own view is that Vettel is well on his way to becoming a great, purely because of the weight of statistics. Multiple world titles, allied to a plethora of victories and pole positions, do not lie, whatever our perception of technological or financial advantages. If the German notches up, say, 50 or more Grand Prix wins, even in a superior car, it would be churlish in the extreme for anyone to see this as anything else but "greatness".
I would however draw a distinction between greatness and "legendary" status. The latter is invariably achieved via a more circuitous route. To get there a driver, as well as making a firm imprint on the record books, must also accomplish something exceptional or extraordinary, thereby transcending his own sport, and reaching into the consciousness of the wider public, in the manner of a Fangio, a Senna or even a Lauda. Legendary status can be reached in a number of ways, such as overcoming technical deficiencies, or overcoming adversity.
Vettel is not a legend yet, but he has time on his side.