As he prepares to reach a double century of Grand Prix starts, Scuderia Ferrari German driver and Tifosi idol Sebastian Vettel admitts to still suffering pre-race nerves, talks about the magic of Ferrari and explains why he’s his own harhest critic.
Look back at images of Sebastian Vettel from the 17th of June, 2007. The then 19-year-old, on the eve of his Formula l debut at the United States Grand Prix, was gifted a baby bottle and a bib with the words ‘a star is born’ emblazoned across it. Now, the four-time Formula One world champion is an Fl elder statesman who this weekend becomes the 18th member of an exclusive club of drivers to reach the landmark of 200 Formula 1 starts. The awkwardness of youth and inexperience is long gone, as is any sense that he is not in command of his situation or his position in the scheme of things. In its place, there is the assured calm of a multiple champion, the focused, unshakeable confidence of a driver with 48 wins and 50 pole positions to his name.
While 10 seasons and 199 grand prix starts might have passed since he first lined up on the Formula 1 grid, Sebastian Vettel remains a man in love with the task at hand: leading the line for Ferrari, pushing for another tilt at ultimate glory and fixing the odd vintage motorcycle along the way. Here is Seb’s full interview from the 2018 Bahrain GP race programme
Here in Bahrain you’re starting your 200th grand prix. It’s quite a milestone for any driver. How does that number feel to you?
Sebastian Vettel: “Nowadays, at 30 years old, you already are a more experienced driver, while if you look back at the history of Formula 1, for example. Juan Manuel Fangio wasn’t even driving when he was 30. To me, when you’re quick enough you’re old enough, and you’re not too old as long as you’re quick enough.
How do you feel about the sport now? Do you still wake up on the morning of a grand prix with pre-race nerves?
Sebastian Vettel: “After a few years you learn how to deal with the excitement and tension before a race, but a healthy tension is part of the sport and competition, and also a reason why I like it. So, yes, I still get nervous and excited.”
Cast your mind back to the US Grand Prix in 2007 – do you recognise that Sebastian now? Can you remember what you felt going into that weekend?
SV: “The whole thing came as a bit of a surpose to me, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare as (Robert) Kutuca’s accident had just happened the week before, but I from what I remember I was ready and very focused. I tried to get the maximum out (of the car) and I was happy to bring home a point. Fortunately, Red Bull gave me a chance afterwards, with Toro Rosso, to continue in F1.”
Knowing what you do now, what would you tell that Sebastian about Formula 1 and how to manage it?
SV: “Nothing really. The path is the most exciting bit. Shortcuts are boring. I believe the most important thing is that you enioy what you do and never think too far ahead.”
It’s your fourth season at Ferrari – what does that mean in terms of your role within the team? Has It changed? Are you a leader? How much can you drive processes within a team? Where does your influence start and end?
SV: “As far as I’m concerned the key role of a Formula 1 driver in a team is to drive the car and focus on your job, not to try and lead the team. But I believe everyone is a part of the team and can make a difference. So, I try my best to make a difference too.”
You have always spoken quite eloquently about the passion of Ferrari and its fans. Define your passion for Ferrari – what did it mean to you growing up?
SV: “I remember Ferrari since I was a child and have always wanted to drive a Ferrari. With my family I visited Fiorano one day, but of course I could only watch what happened from behind the fence without any interaction. So now, to be part of the team is the coolest thing ever.”
Was choosing to drive for Ferrari a heart or head decision for you? And can the heart sometimes lead you to impulsive decisions you might regret?
SV: “I would say both: it came from the heart because of my passion since I was a child, but also from my head as I wanted to get back to the top together with the team. Every Formula 1 driver wants to drive for Ferrari and win with Ferrari.”
Looking at this season, there are relatively stable rules, you have a stable team with no major changes in terms of set-up, and there’s room to exploit the potential shown last year. Is this the Ferrari you’ve been waiting for?
SV: “I am happy with Ferrari, I think last year we made a huge step forward and we want to keep on improving. For sure I have enjoyed being part of this development process. About this year, it’s too early to tell.”
Another stable aspect is the driver line-up. Tell us why Kimi Raikkonen is a good team-mate on a personal level. You two seem to home good understanding…
SV: “We respect each other. We are both straightforward and we don’t hide anything from each other. There’s no politics and there’s no nonsense.”
The pressure on you was intense with Red Bull and it’s even tougher now, as Ferrari is always under such scrutiny. Do you feel it more these days? How hard is it to shut the pressure down and does it ever explode?
SV: “No, not at all. I have higher expectations for myself than anyone else. Ultimately, I am my own judge and don’t care too much what people thnk. If you do well, you know how wel. If you mess up, no one knows that better than you.”
Can you enjoy what you do? Where is the fun in Formula One racing for Sebastian Vettel?
SV: “Yes, of course I enjoy what I do. We get to drive the fastest cars in the world and race each other.”
Finally, Lewis arrives at the paddock on a Ducati Monster, you’re on a vintage motorcycle. What does that say about you both and tell us about your love of old bikes.
SV: “I guess it tells you that he likes a Ducati Monster and I like old bikes! Full stop. I like old bikes because they are harder to ride and easier to fix.”