There is a contradiction about Sebastian Vettel, the young man in a hurry who is not in a rush. The unGerman German and the new Michael Schumacher who could not be more different to the grand old man of Formula One.
He is currently the fastest man in F1, the favourite to win the title, yet he is only fifth in the points table. He should have won all four races thus far this year, yet has only one victory to his credit. He should, many say, already be a world champion.
Vettel could be an angry young man. But the 23-year-old does not come across that way, instead he is affable, interesting, possessor of a distinctly Anglophile sense of humour and a penchant for Little Britain and Monty Python, the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
"I am not very patient," he says. "When I started karting I was kind of addicted to it. I wanted to do it again and again. I wanted to be quicker than everyone else. I was attracted by the speed itself, but also by the challenge of being faster than everybody else. Whenever I have to do something, I try to minimise the time it takes me to do it. I just cannot wait.
"Some people say it is because I am a German and I am always pushing. But I am not in a rush. I always try to do things as quickly as possible, but I take my time." There is an intensity about him – as there is with most sports people from the highest echelon – so what presses his buttons. "Generally I have my feelings quite under control," he says. "I would say that I am naturally happy. I am not angry. I enjoy what I am doing. I love Formula One, but there are some things that make me angry – if things do not go according to my wishes or plans. It's difficult to highlight one thing."
He pauses. "I can't stand traffic," he suggests. "I don't like queuing very much. I am not very German like that. Maybe that comes from being impatient. I cannot 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."
Perhaps the most telling comment is when he admits: "There are a few things that make me angry. Mostly things not going my way."
There has been much that has gone his way over the last three years. In the summer of 2007, Vettel became the youngest man to take part in a Grand Prix weekend, as the third driver with BMW Sauber. He immediately broke another record: nine seconds into his F1 career he was fined $1000 for speeding in the pitlane. Then he became the youngest driver to score points in a Grand Prix; the youngest to lead a race; the youngest to take a pole; and, at Monza in 2008, the youngest ever to win a grand prix.
His break came at Indianapolis in 2007, after Robert Kubica's accident the previous week in Canada. The doctors ruled Kubica out of the United States GP and Vettel did a competent, if unspectacular, job, scoring a point for eighth. Red Bull came knocking, and as Kubica returned Vettel was signed up to join Tonio Liuzzi at Toro Rosso.
He struggled to match the Italian's pace in Budapest, Istanbul, Monza and Spa, never escaping the lower midfield pack. But in the rain at Fuji in the Japanese GP the run of luck began. He was running third behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber, behind a safety car. People took notice, even when he got caught out as the field went back and forth like a concertina because the safety car was too slow, and he took out Red Bull stablemate Webber. Instant black mark. But next time out in China the cards fell for him, and he bounced back with fourth place, the team's best performance of the year. Suddenly, everyone was saying good things again about him.
After outperforming French team-mate Sébastien Bourdais in 2008 he looked stronger than perhaps he really was. But it was he who scored the crucial first victory for the Red Bull brand – at Monza. It was a superb performance. He was 21 years and 74 days old, almost a year younger than Fernando Alonso had been when he took his first F1 victory. He was the new Schuey. Red Bull's golden boy.
2009 began with a strong showing in Australia, where he fought Kubica for second before he collided with the Pole in an impetuous moment and tried to drag his three-wheeled car home. But, again in China, he made amends with a stunning victory in the wet. There were more, in Silverstone Suzuka and Abu Dhabi.
"I'm very happy here at Red Bull," he says. "I like the people, I am enjoying it and on top of that what is most important is that we have a winning car. I believe in the team. We have the right people on board and we have great potential."
Vettel grew up in Heppenheim, a pretty town in Hesse in the south-west of Germany. He began by racing karts, inspired, of course, by Schumacher, the man with whom he is inevitably compared.
"It was a different time," he says of Schumacher's prime. "He is a different person and it is so difficult to compare everything. If you compare all the drivers nowadays Michael is a bit higher than them and one of the best ever seen. A legend. And he well deserves to be in that position. I have a very long way to go."
The planned first stop of that journey is top of the podium in Barcelona tomorrow. So far three pole positions have converted into one win due mainly to reliability issues. He insists the championship is still his target. "I think I am in the wrong place if I don't believe in us and in myself. Yes, the first four races were a bit up and down. We had only one win but in the end that's history, we can't change it any more."
The humour soon surfaces when he is asked to quantify the changes Red Bull have made for Spain. "I had a haircut. I saw Fernando had one to. I dropped more than he did, so I hope that our car will make a bigger step than his and we can stay ahead..."
More than anything, he is a racer with his feet firmly on the ground. "I don't consider myself to be famous," he says. "Politicians are famous. Presidents. Kings. Queens. I think that with the way I grew up and the way I live I have no reason to start to fly high.
"When I grew up I was always told that as long as you have something to eat, you are healthy, and you have a roof over your head, then it is fine. There are some things that you can fulfil with money, but at the end of the day these are not the things that make you happy. It is the small things that make life good. I am sure that you can ask most of the drivers about the things they remember and it will not be when they got a large cheque and went to the bank, but it would be things like at Monza in 2008. The emotion of standing on the podium seeing the joy in the team and the faces. Those things stay with you forever and they make you happy."
And, as he intends to remind people this weekend, he is also a winner.Reuse content