Monty Python-loving man in a hurry wants to keep feet on the ground
Monday 15 November 2010
This boy from Heppenheim burst on to the Formula One scene in 2007, when he stood in for the injured Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber in the US GP. At 19, he was the youngest man ever to take part in a grand prix weekend. He immediately broke another record: nine seconds into his F1 career, he was fined $1000 for speeding in the pit lane. Clearly, he was impatient. Not a bad sign, since that is usually allied to speed.
"I'm not very patient," he admits. "When I started karting I was addicted to it. I wanted to do it again and again, to be quicker than everyone else. I was attracted by the speed itself, but also by the challenge of being faster than everybody else."
Vettel says he's still impatient: "Whenever I have to do something, I try to minimise the time it takes me to do it. I just cannot wait."
That rush was evident when he became the youngest driver to score points in a grand prix, claiming eighth place that day at Indianapolis; later the youngest driver to lead a race, the youngest to take a pole and, at Monza in 2008, when he steered his Toro Rosso brilliantly, the youngest to win a grand prix.
Besides a penchant for breaking records – one he indulged further yesterday by becoming the youngest ever world champion – he has a sense of humour (Monty Python and Little Britain figure highly) and an impetuous streak that humanised him. Not surprisingly, he became Red Bull's poster boy.
Television viewers have seen him schoolboyishly happy but also angry, as he was after crashing in Turkey. "Generally I have my feelings under control," he says. "I would say that I am naturally happy, not angry. I enjoy what I'm doing. I love Formula One, but there are some things that make me angry – things not going according to my wishes or plans."
He thinks for a moment. "I can't stand traffic! I don't like queuing very much. I can't wait for things to happen. If I want to do something, then I want to do it now. If I want to go somewhere, I want to go there, now!"
Vettel is a well-mannered young man from a strong family background, like Lewis Hamilton, and still has his feet firmly on the ground, his head out of the clouds. "I don't consider myself to be famous," he says. "Politicians are famous. Presidents, kings, queens – they are famous. I think that with the way I grew up and the way I live I have no reason to start to fly high."
Conceding that he is pretty well known, however, and likely to be even more so now, he adds: "There are some advantages with being famous, but on the other hand, my private life is the most important thing and it is not always easy. A lot of people are interested in what you do in your spare time; they try to see a background in whatever shoes or clothes you wear. Sometimes there is not an answer. It is not always easy any more to go out and have a drink."
That problem just got a lot worse. Inevitably, he has been tagged, by some, the new Schumacher.
"It was a different time," he suggests. "Michael is a legend, and he well deserves to be in that position. I have a very long way to go."
He pauses, then adds contemplatively: "You are the person you are. You might look back 30 years and think you cannot do what they used to do then. Now you have to be quite careful with what you do and what you say. There are some things that you have to learn but once you have done that, it's fine. Privacy is important for some more than others. You choose your own path."
A world championship seemed an inevitable part of Sebastian Vettel's future, but it came a little sooner than most expected, after his recent tribulations. You wouldn't bet against several more, and if that record-breaking streak continues, perhaps even Schumacher's achievements will be overshadowed.
Sebastian Vettel (Ger, Red Bull) 23 yrs, 133 days (2010)
Lewis Hamilton (GB, McLaren) 23 yrs, 301 days (2008)
Fernando Alonso (Sp, Renault) 24 yrs, 58 days (2005)
Emerson Fittipaldi (Br, Lotus)25 yrs, 273 days (1972)
Michael Schumacher (Ger, Benetton)25 yrs, 314 days (1994)
Niki Lauda (Aut, Ferrari)26 yrs, 197 days (1975)
Jacques Villeneuve (Can, Williams)26 yrs, 200 days (1997)
Jim Clark (GB, Lotus)27 yrs, 188 days (1963)
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin, Ferrari)28 yrs, 4 days (2007)
Jochen Rindt (Aut, Lotus)28 yrs, 140 days (1970)
Rindt was awarded the drivers' title posthumously, 29 days after his death in qualifying at Monza
2010 was a classic season, wasn't it?
Abu Dhabi marked the only season in the long and glorious history of Formula One that the battle for the world championship has gone down to the wire between four drivers.
Through a brutal 19-race season, beginning in Bahrain to its end in Abu Dhabi, not a single driver could establish dominance. The lead see-sawed back and forth between Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton, with the eventual champion Sebastian Vettel dogging their every move. It was often impossible to predict form in a year of twists and turns.
Cars going round and round doesn't sound that interesting. No Spygate, Liegate, etc, this year?
Incredibly, the only major political issue concerned Ferrari's clear deployment of team orders to help Alonso past team-mate Felipe Massa in Germany (for which they were fined but not docked points), though there was the minor aside of grumbles about whether Red Bull treated their drivers equally. The rest of the time the focus was on one thing: the racing. The greatest season in decades thus distilled to its essence: a sporting contest fought out between teams and drivers who never let up for a moment.
So the fastest driver and the fastest car won?
Arguably, but it's not as simple as that. Red Bull were dominant from the start – at least on performance. But they were afflicted by reliability issues which cost Vettel dear while setting the pace in both Bahrain and Australia. He finally won from Webber in Malaysia, but in China the reigning champion, Jenson Button, rose to the occasion again – following on from a surprise triumph in the rain in Australia, which showed that Lewis Hamilton would have competition chez McLaren. But Button's star waned almost as quickly as it had risen, and when the championship moved to Europe in May another contender pushed forward.
Enter Webber, who stunned his team-mate Vettel by winning not just in Spain but also in Monaco, where confidence and brio created an unbeatable formula and Red Bull were forced to offer unconvincing excuses why their favourite son had not delivered.
Webber... family guy, clean image, a marketing man's dream?
Not exactly. Webber's successes created a tricky problem for Red Bull, a company whose whole marketing thrust revolved around their 23-year-old star Vettel. "I'm an inconvenience, mate," Webber declared in his inimitable, no-holding-back style. And perhaps that was so.
Things reached a head between their drivers in Turkey, where Webber was told to turn his engine down and conserve fuel just as Vettel turned his up and drew alongside for the lead. But the Young Turk turned in too soon across his team-mate, and the result was a carambolage that handed victory to McLaren. As Hamilton lost the lead to Button then snatched it back with a bit of uncompromising toughness, those two also had the flashpoint of their season, but they discussed it and put it aside. It took the Red Bull racers a while to achieve that.
Hamilton won again in Canada to lead the series, before Webber channelled anger at having a new front wing handed to Vettel by winning at Silverstone – "Not bad for a No 2 driver," he said.
So what of Alonso, he's been uncharacteristically quiet?
Ferrari had been well off the pace early in the season, but hit back in Germany as Alonso was handed the win – "OK, so, Fernando is faster than you," the Ferrari race engineer, Rob Smedley, told Alonso's team-mate, Felipe Massa. "Can you confirm you understood that message?" Massa grudgingly moved aside to let his team-mate take victory. The dual champion was back in the hunt.
Webber won again in Hungary, Hamilton in Belgium, but thereafter it was Alonso v Vettel. The Spaniard won in Singapore, Vettel in Japan. The German was on target in Korea too, where Webber lost the points lead after a self-inflicted, race-ending spin, but the Red Bull's Renault engine failure handed the race and the points lead to Alonso. A Red Bull one-two in Brazil set up the denouement, but the management's refusal to ask Vettel to hand a win to Webber seriously compromised the Australian's flagging chances, conversely increasing the likelihood of Alonso being crowned again.
Weren't we supposed to be talking about another German?
Yesterday in Abu Dhabi, Michael Schumacher capped an often embarrassing comeback season with a driving error. Mercedes, the rebranded Brawn team that won the title last year, lest we forget, flopped. And the only Schuey of old we saw was the return of his brutal track manners against Rubens Barrichello in Hungary. It was somehow symbolic of the passing of the flame that, as Schumacher exited ignominiously at Yas Marina, his brilliant young compatriot Vettel rose to the occasion to assume his mantle in style.
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