Bernie Ecclestone, a keen gambler, has a word of investment advice: put your money on Sebastian Vettel for the world title. The 88-year-old Formula One mogul has been in touch recently with the German – they are backgammon-playing friends – and the impression he gets is that the Ferrari man is ready to rip the crown out of Lewis Hamilton’s grasp.
‘Sebastian will do it,’ said Bernie Ecclestone ahead of Sunday’s opening race in Melbourne. As that endorsement was delivered Sebastian Vettel was on stage in the city’s Federation Square as part of a new initiative – a season launch attended by all 20 drivers and some eight thousand fans.
Seb, who was bruised by the evaporation of his title ambitions last year that cost team principal Maurizio Arrivabene his job, used the stage to reveal that he is calling his 2019 Ferrari ‘Lina’, maintaining his tradition of adopting a lady’s name for his chariot. Ecclestone said:
“Sebastian is in very good spirits, very relaxed. The car is quick. We saw that in testing and I think Ferrari will really have got it together this year. Ferrari winning the title is what Formula One needs. It would be absolutely super and I think it will happen. Lewis will be strong, though. He is still super-competitive but he is doing a lot of other things in his life – fashion and music and whatever. It is what he wants to do. He is not a driver who just stays at home when he leaves the track. Having other projects on the go has worked for him in the past and I am not saying he should change. But he will have to manage everything well to take on Sebastian. Ferrari have now got Mattia Binotto in as team principal. That will be better than last year under Maurizio. I liked Maurizio but he was a bit out of his depth in that job – he was a marketing executive and not really the right fit for the task. It wasn’t fair on him.” – he explained
Sebastian Vettel, 31, spent the winter break quietly, as is his wont. He hates the public eye. ‘I just tried to recharge my batteries and didn’t go anywhere,’ he said. ‘I stayed at home.’
He was relaxed on Wednesday, adding: ‘There has obviously been a big change with Mattia taking over but he is not a new face. He has been with the team for longer than most – 25 years (finally as technical director before landing the team principal role). People trust him.
‘We are looking to turn a page. We had weaknesses to work on from last year. Now the spirit is good and the car is on the right track.’
The unpretentious Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion, eschewed a chauffeur-driven car back from the launch, opting instead for a push bike to return to his hotel by the Yarra River.