No matter how grueling or physically demanding Formula One is on its drivers, Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is sure the toughest test only comes once they hang up their helmets. Current Formula One world champion Nico Rosberg shocked the world of F1 when he announced his retirement from the sport less than a week after claiming his maiden title at the end of last season.
The German spent most his life working towards reaching the pinnacle of his profession, deciding to quit once he had reached it to spend more time with his young family. With the stress, strain and intense pressure that the F1 calendar entails, would Vettel be tempted to copy his compatriot’s decision and walk away from the sport for good? – “”I don’t know. I don’t know much about his decision at the end of the day. I don’t know if it was spontaneous or if it was an intention. I guess it’s a very difficult probably the most difficult decision you have to make in your racing career or life.” – the 30-year-old German driver tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies in an exclusive interview.
Sebastian has achieved everything during his Formula One career, setting new, historic benchmarks in the process, but the German is also conscious that there are few pastimes more thrilling than elite motorsport: “Whatever comes after, you need to be aware of the fact that the source of adrenaline of rush, excitement, the biggest income in that regard is gone,” he says with trepidation. It will never come back. That will be difficult to make friends with. I’d assume it’s been hard for all the drivers to call it a day. You want to make sure that you lined up your ducks for the afterlife. The biggest challenge one day will be to quit and find something else that gives you a different sort of pleasure. You can drive other cars, but they are not as satisfying as driving a Formula One car.” – Sebastian explained, as reported by the cnn.com website on Thursday.
Perhaps, however, the German is better prepared for life after racing than many of his contemporaries: “Well, I am happy with the small things in life.” – he says, a content smile creeping across his face. Born in Heppenheim, a modest, slow-paced town of 25,000 residents in western Germany, the 30-year-old recalls a place where children can walk to school without parents, or play unsupervised in the Old Town square. Situated among vineyards and rolling, forested hills about an hour’s drive south of Frankfurt, you would be hard pressed to find a starker contrast to the life Sebastian Vettel leads now. He might have become accustomed to a life of private jets and five-star hotels, but Vettel admits the change in lifestyle was abrupt:
“I don’t think I got any preparation for this. But then again, I got a lot because in many ways you can argue that all this (Formula One) is not the real world. But I think I’m fortunate enough to look back and say I had a real and normal childhood just like any other child. Maybe people always have the expectation of what our lives should look like, just because we have the opportunity. But then it’s my choice and you know I’m happy with a normal life, with normal things that give me satisfaction.” – Sebastian added.
Vettel openly admits that the superstar lifestyle that being a Formula One driver affords him doesn’t provide the same satisfaction as a quiet night in with friends and family: “I’m really happy when I’m at home, when I don’t have a huge perfect menu or buffet. I have to do breakfast myself. In the end, you always want the things that you don’t have. I’m traveling a lot, so of course I appreciate sleeping in my own bed.”
Whenever Sebastian Vettel has driven an F1 car, history seems to have followed in his slipstream. In 2010, aged just 23, the German became the sport’s youngest-ever world champion. He would go on to win four successive world titles, making him the youngest double, triple and quadruple champion of all time. His first crown came down to a four-way final race decider against Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The youngest of the quartet, Vettel showed maturity and an assuredness behind the wheel that belied his age and took the checkered flag ahead of Hamilton: “It was very difficult in Abu Dhabi, when I won the first championship, to realize that I actually did it.” – Sebastian recalls – “Since then, you know, it’s different because you don’t put yourself under that much pressure anymore. Saying that though, it starts from zero the next year and obviously the challenge was there and we went for it again and again and again. And now, a couple of years on that I haven’t won the championship, I think my desire and hunger for winning again is greater than ever.”
Despite his relentless success, Sebastian Vettel often drew criticism for being too highly-strung and hot-headed. He acknowledges that he is now more relaxed than in his early 20s, but believes more of an issue was made of his temperament than needed to be: “I think it’s normal that people try to make a massive story out of it. I think it’s normal that if you really care for what you do and love what you do, you become very passionate about it. And that means also that, you know, being human you react from time to time. Sometimes good, people like it. Sometimes bad, people don’t like it. So, I’ve been on both sides but, as I said, I think it’s also a reminder that I still care.”
Sebastian Vettel’s 2015 switch from Red Bull to Scuderia Ferrari saw him wear for the first time the famous red that his idol wore in the photos that adorned his childhood bedroom wall. Seb comes across as a pragmatist. Even as a child, he recalls, his thought was always focused on winning his next kart race, rarely did he let images of himself standing atop the podium as F1 world champion cloud his mind. But he readily admits emulating seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, five of them with Ferrari, would top his long list of previous achievements.
Vettel leads the current drivers’ championship by seven points heading into this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He remains optimistic that he can give the home fans something to cheer about, not only on Sunday, but at the end of the season too in a year that Ferrari celebrates its 70th anniversary: “I always feel that the best moment is still to come,” Vettel says. “And at the moment the best moment that I can picture is winning in red. Winning with Ferrari, because it’s what we set out to do when I joined, is what my hero has done for so many years. Everybody inside the team is dying to get back to the top. And yeah, that I would imagine would be a great, great moment and I want to witness it. I want to make it happen. It’s great I had a huge inspiration in my childhood..”
Vettel, though, scoffs at the notion a driver can only truly be considered great if he reaps success with two different teams: “Usually the people that came come out saying that are the ones that didn’t do it,” he says dismissively. “But no, I’m not bothered. I think you have great drivers in Formula One and a lot of things need to go right for you, personally, to be able to be in a position to win. There are drivers that had the potential in the past and because of their decisions, the team’s performances it didn’t come together. I am quite happy with what I got now — but not satisfied yet because equally I want more.” – Sebastian Vettel concluded.