Sebastian Vettel: 'This year has been a tough lesson ... but what a sweet finish'
Interview No. 5: German tells David Tremayne about his regret at letting team-mate Webber win in Hungary but hopes his world title is first of many
Tuesday 21 December 2010
Sebastian Vettel's jet-setting year came, at last, to a moment of peacefulness in Monaco's Fontvieille last Friday, as he wandered happily round a Carrefour supermarket. It was such a mundane activity that he found it almost restful.
So, Carrefours aside, had he been able to relax at all since that dramatic victory in Abu Dhabi had snatched the world championship crown from under the noses of rivals Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber and made him the youngest man ever to wear it?
"Not really," he grins. "It's been kind of busy..."
Immediately after that race he was whisked back to Europe to celebrate in Germany, before returning to Abu Dhabi to test Pirelli's new tyres – the company being the sole supplier of rubber to Formula One teams from next season. After that it was back to Europe for celebrations at Red Bull's famous Hangar 7 in Salzburg, then the Race of Champions and now, finally, the glamorous FIA prize-giving at which he would officially become champion. "I really need a holiday," he adds, "but that doesn't start until tomorrow."
By any account it's been a dramatic year for the 23-year-old wunderkind from Heppenheim who admits that he printed out photos of the world champion's trophy at the beginning of the season as a form of motivation. He had his ups and downs – notably some car failures which cost him races and a couple of moments of impetuosity which cost him more – but a superb run in the latter stages of the year saw him come from behind to take the title. The only time he led the world championship was on the day he won it, but that was all that mattered.
Vettel is an introspective driver, always keen to learn, to improve himself. "I had a lot of hard lessons in 2010, but I aim to make sure not only that I learn from them, but that they make me stronger still. I feel I am still only at the beginning here."
Watched by his family, Vettel received the champion's trophy from FIA president, Jean Todt, last Friday evening, but despite his joy at finally achieving his goal, something that he had struggled to take in during the moment of triumph in Abu Dhabi, he was already looking forward to a glittering future.
"I hope there is much more to come," he told Autosport magazine as he spoke for the first time since holding the award in his hands. "I want to become a better driver and a better person. I think this year has been a very tough lesson, but with a very sweet outcome in the end."
Vettel's relationship with team-mate Mark Webber was one of the highlights of a brilliant year for the sport, but they are such competitive and excellent drivers that last season was never going to be easy for either of them to keep the peace.
They famously collided in the Turkish Grand Prix while battling for the lead, and soon afterwards came a very public argument over the team's decision to give Vettel a new front wing from Webber's car at Silverstone, where Vettel's own had broken.
But it emerged in Monaco last week that despite the resultant acrimony Vettel continued to be a team player. In the Hungarian GP he admitted that he "fell asleep" during a safety car period, falling so far behind leader Webber that he himself was penalised by the race stewards for impeding a following Alonso prior to the restart. It seemed he had made another error of judgement. But now he tells a different story, and says that the delay was deliberate and intended to help Webber.
At the time he kept his own counsel, even admitting to making a mistake, but now he is happy to reveal what really happened and his regrets over the incident. "Well, I think I learnt a lesson there," he admits. "As you can see from the pictures, I was obviously very disappointed because things did not go according to plan [when he was penalised]. I threw away a chance [to win a Grand Prix]."
He might be only 23, but Vettel knows his own mind and doesn't really care what people think about whether he played a team role, many believing that Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko manipulated things in his favour. "I am who I am," Vettel insists. "I don't need to make any talk about that. I didn't do it all year and I won't do it now – it isn't the time. In the end, I learnt a lot this year and what matters most is when you get back – either to a hotel or to home – and finally you can face yourself in the mirror and know exactly what happened.
"You have to understand it yourself and deep down in your heart you have to know what is going on. That is more important than whatever other people think, or what they write or say. In the end, it's impossible to please everybody. Sometimes it might be seen from a different angle, but as long as you know for yourself, then that is all that matters. I don't want to make any speeches now, because I haven't done all year, and it's not the time to."
So now, at last, the new world champion gets his chance to relax, to look back but, more importantly, to look forward. Now may be the time to savour success, but he is already planning how to run his campaign next year in an Adrian Newey-inspired Red Bull RB7 that, he hopes, will once again be the class of the field. If he has his way, it won't be such a hard road to another world title as he learns from his errors.
"For sure a break is really important for me," he says. "You need that, to get the energy for next year. At the beginning of this season I was printing out pictures of the trophy, because as a sportsman you look ahead. So it's a very, very nice souvenir, and very special." And he smiles again, before adding: "But inevitably you always look forward to the next step."
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