Underperforming Vettel missed a genuine shot at victory in Belgium

Vettel Belgium 2014

After another humbling defeat to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, questions must be asked about four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel's performance levels.

A year ago Sebastian Vettel returned from F1's summer break bursting with energy. He promptly took victory at Spa to kick off a nine-race winning streak, setting a new F1 record and earning a fourth successive world title in the process. After securing the eighth of those successes at the U.S Grand Prix, Vettel had a message for his Red Bull squad:

"We have to remember these days," he said over the team radio. "We have to enjoy them while they last."

Hopefully Seb heeded his own advice. 12 months on from that 2013 victory in the Ardennes his fortunes were very different. A fifth-place finish brought home decent points for Red Bull, but given that Vettel started third and saw one of the two cars ahead of him eliminated from proceedings, it actually represents a net loss of three spots over the grand prix.

It gets worse. Vettel began the race well, even challenging for the lead early on. But his mistake at Pouhon on lap five allowed team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to sweep through. After this the Australian showed much better pace and went on to win for a third time this season, earning Red Bull's 50th Formula 1 victory in the process.

Meanwhile Vettel became little more than a rear gunner, holding up the Mercedes of Ricciardo's chief rival Nico Rosberg, before settling into a entertaining scrap for fifth with Fernando Alonso the McLarens of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button.

Seb won this mini race, but it does not gloss over the fact that his team-mate was taking the chequered flag a whopping 52 seconds up the road. Vettel did not have an off-track excursion or a penalty; he was simply not quick enough. He missed running on Friday, but he knows Spa well enough to nullify that. His strategy was not as optimal as Ricciardo's, but that was because the Aussie had put himself in a position to win. Success breeds success - no one knows that better than Vettel.

And he had the very same opportunity. He was running second and, had his error not opened the door for Ricciardo, he could have been the one to take the fight to Mercedes - at least in theory. However the Red Bull team-mates look like entirely different men when there is a sniff at victory this year. It did not seem likely that Vettel would chase down Rosberg for the lead, but as soon as Ricciardo was in P2 he immediately went in hot pursuit.

Perhaps Daniel, with everything to prove, just wants it more. Vettel has won 38 of Red Bull's 50 victories, and so maybe his hunger is less.

But that would not tally with the Sebastian Vettel who so relished racking up the wins in late 2013, a man who doesn't consider a victory complete if it doesn't come with the fastest race lap. He clearly wants to return to the front and has been clawing back the qualifying deficit of late. An excellent showing at Spa put him third on the grid, with Ricciardo a few spots back in fifth. Saturday afternoons are now 7-5 in Ricciardo's favour; to some degree, Seb has rediscovered his one-lap pace.

But in the races he is going backwards, slipping into the pack, while Daniel never wastes time in getting to the front.

It must be said that Vettel appeared in very good spirits after yesterday's grand prix. He was jovial in the post-race interviews, not acting like a man frustrated by his team-mate's success. While he has at times become angry when his car lets him down, there is no sign that he bears any ill feeling towards Ricciardo. At least 2014 has cast Vettel in a better light as a man, if not as a racing driver.

Who knows, perhaps after four years of winning races from pole Vettel is simply enjoying his on-track tussles with fellow greats such as Alonso and Button; in some ways, it beats just lapping the Caterhams and Marussias on your way to another win.

But you must question how long Vettel can continue being comprehensively out-performed by his team-mate in races - and just what this season is doing to his reputation as a multiple World Champion.