You wouldn’t expect this year’s top tip for the Formula One drivers’ title to be scared of mice would you? But he is, oh yes, as The Red Bulletin found out…
Fortified by the breakfast buffet of the seven-star Pan Pacific Hotel that adjoins the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sebastian Vettel, though dressed in his civvies, is in Malaysia to do battle: two sets of questions have been prepared for him – hard and easy – and through a mouthful of muesli, he indicates he’s ready to meet the worst we can throw at him: “OK, we’ll start with the easy ones,” and he reaches for one of the Bulletin’s two, randomly ordered, piles of cards…
Red Bulletin: What would you do if not Formula One?
Sebastian Vettel: “That’s not an easy question! I don’t know. That’s the only answer. I only left high school three-and-a-half years ago and I was looking at which university to go to. Surely my dream was to become a racing driver, but I never went so far as to say, ‘OK, this is going to be a fact, I don’t need school.’ If I had gone to university I probably would have done mechanical engineering. Something technical, the stuff you can explain, rather than something that’s shades of grey… For me it has always been very interesting how things work.”
Are you the fastest driver in F1?
“Ah, that’s a hard question for me. I want to be, of course, but I don’t really like this kind of question. There are many experts out there and they would be sad if no one asked them that kind of question any more, so better to ask them. But surely my target is to be the best, and that’s why I am here. I don’t really like just to take part.”
What’s the most fun you can have with your trousers on?
“Ah you can ride a bike naked… if you like? That’s a possibility. Everyone has something he likes most or enjoys most. I usually like to be active. I’m not the kind of guy you put on an island for a week so that I can enjoy the sun. No way! Sometimes I have to force myself to rest, but really I like to move and do all kinds of sport, try new things – with friends if possible – and just have a good time. After that, then take it easy and go for dinner somewhere or sit around the fire.”
Is it true you used to watch the Tour de France on an indoor bike trainer, to ride with your heroes?
“How did you know that? Ha! Ah, yes I used to, actually. I still do in the summer. Sometimes it’s better to train indoors because you can hold the same level in a very accurate way for a long time. The first time I remember was when I was 13 at home and I had the little TV in my room and the bike set up in front, and when I came back from school I’d get on, turn on the TV and I joined the Tour for one or two hours.”
What is fear?
(Long pause) “That’s a difficult question. On the one hand there’s the fact that you are afraid of certain animals, in my case mice.
“Yeah, really, I’m afraid of mice. But I think that real fear is… I mean… I’m not afraid driving the car and I don’t feel fear when I’m racing. Even when you go off, usually you can explain it because there’s been some technical issue or maybe you made a mistake or whatever, but it’s not fear, it’s just ‘Shit!’ because you don’t know what’s coming. And you’re more afraid of that. I think fear is something… put it this way: if you have certain expectations and then you fail or some really bad things happen like you lose someone… that’s more fear to me. Do you understand what I mean? It’s more an emotional thing.”
Why do you name your cars?
“I don’t know really. It has become a habit. I started a couple of years ago. This year it’s ‘Luscious Liz’, last year was ‘Kate’ and ‘Kate’s Dirty Sister’ and the year before, at Toro Rosso, it was ‘Julia’.”
Are they named after people, well, girls, you, er, know?
(He laughs, anticipating the next question) “No, no. You mean when I’ve ended up without trousers? Well, there is a bit of an explanation behind the names. First of all it has to be a nice name. It has to be a name where you can imagine a nice-looking lady, but at the same time she can be, you know, wild as well. So it would never work with a name like… ah, I have to be careful here… I don’t have an example of a name that won’t work…
“… but then if there’s a Daisy reading this she might feel bad! Look, this isn’t a really deep thing, but for me it’s a way to appreciate the work that has gone into the car and all the mechanics put into the car.”
Are you losing your sense of humour?
Because you’re in a more intense situation these days. You’ve gone from being the youngest guy in F1 to being a potential champion in a very short space of time and obviously there’s pressure…
“Yeah, but I see it this way: there are more expectations this year, which I think is positive, because it shows that we were in a strong position last year and people expect us to be there again. For me that’s a compliment. Above all you should always know why you are here. I’m extremely glad and proud to have reached Formula One. I went to a go-kart race last December and I saw all the young boys and sometimes girls there, and it’s funny because they’re not seeing me like another driver, someone maybe they’re used to racing against.
They’re seeing a Formula One driver, which is a weird feeling for me because in some cases I’m not that much older than they are. It shows that what you do is something a lot of people care about, and for a lot of people it’s the top of your sport, so I think you should never forget this fact.
Obviously, if you end up on the circuit and you do your usual stuff, it becomes routine and like a job, and of course the moment you start racing and you approach your qualifying lap, for example, you’re not thinking ‘this is nice, this is Formula One’. You’re focusing 100 per cent on the moment. But still, you should never forget where you came from and what you’re doing.
Above all, you should always see the joy of what you do and enjoy it. And never lose the fun. I think that’s the same for who you are – you should not forget where you come from. And, to go back to your question, if I have a sense of humour I think I should keep it. There’s no reason why not.”
Read the full interview and learn what Sebastian thinks of last year’s championship race, team politics, sex and muesli in this month’s Red Bulletin.