Sebastian Vettel: 'I'm still hungry'
At just 24 years old, Sebastian Vettel has acquired a curriculum vitae that would be the envy of anyone 10 years his senior in the world of auto racing.
The native of Heppenheim, Germany, already has a pair of world driving championships to his credit and is coming off a 2011 Formula One season where all he did was obliterate his peers in the world’s foremost open wheel racing series.
Just look at his numbers with Red Bull Racing from last season: 11 wins and 15 pole positions, with 17 podium finishes in 19 grands prix.
Those are the kind of numbers that even seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher in his prime would find hard to match.
And Vettel said as much in an interview with Britain’s The Guardian newspaper earlier this week.
“Last year was nearly faultless,” he said. “You don’t have this kind of season very often. Even if you look at the seasons Michael had, when dominating, we did something special.”
The scary thing about Vettel is that he is not even close to being at the top of his game. Experts agree that his best race days are still ahead of him.
Last season, Vettel became the youngest back-to-back champion in the history of the sport — younger than his racing hero Schumacher and younger than the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio.
So it should come as no surprise — with the F-1 season set to start Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix — that Vettel is projected as the favourite to win it all for the third year in a row.
Vettel has no qualms about making that prediction himself, for if he excels at anything else besides racing, it is in self-confidence.
“My target was always to win the world championship, and after winning the first championship it is a great relief in many ways because you have proven to yourself that you can do it — which is more important than anything else, as it is something that no one can take from you,” he said this week.
“All in all, it is a great relief, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t care what happens next. It is the opposite — you know it all starts again, everyone starts from zero again and you want to do it again, naturally. So I have never had to ask myself the question, ‘Do I want this again?’ or ‘Why am I here?’ Nothing has changed. I am still hungry, and I am still getting upset when there is someone else beating me, which is a good thing for sure.”
Vettel also brings to the table a sense of himself that includes a healthy dose of humour, something that certainly separates him from his countryman, the dour Schumacher.
Vettel’s ever-present smile in the confines of the uber-serious F-1 paddock is more than just refreshing, it is game changing.
For more than a decade of Schumacher’s dominance, happiness had no part to play in the travelling circus that is F-1.
An example of Vettel’s playfulness is that every season he gives his Red Bull Renault-powered race car a nickname. This season he named the car “Abbey,” in celebration of his favourite Beatles album.
Previous cars have been named Kate, Kate’s Dirty Sister, Luscious Liz and Kinky Kylie.
That sense of fun is only part of what Vettel brings to the series. The other is his tremendous talent.
But as much as he is confident, Vettel is also very much a realist who knows that, in the ultra-competitive world in which he performs, there is always someone looking to knock him off of his pedestal.
Every race, he says, is a new challenge to his throne.
“Everyone will get beaten one day, and it is not about that particular day, but how you come back,” Vettel philosophises. “There is nothing wrong with losing, but we have a lot of races and the one who is most consistent and, on average, the best one, deserves to win the world championship.”
Another trait that seems to set Vettel apart from his fellow drivers is his maturity.
How many 24-year-olds could handle being the best in the world while being paid millions to do something most would do for free?
For example, he is keenly aware that nothing — not even his remarkable success — lasts forever.
“It will be completely immature to believe that nothing ever goes wrong,” he said. “I think from what I have seen so far, and what I have had to go through so far, I should be smart enough to know that it doesn’t always go your way.
“To be honest, it didn’t in the last couple of years and if you look at last year, for sure we had a great season, but even there we had races where I think we could have done better, and other races where we should have done better.
“That is life, in a way. You never know what is going to happen, but it would be pretty boring if we did. I think not even half the people would be here, to make the effort to fly out and see what is going happen if we already knew (the result) before.”
So is there a secret to Vettel’s success that others might want to emulate?
Well yes, and he is quick to point out just what it is that sets him apart from the also-rans: His passion.
“It’s the same as every other job: You need passion to succeed,” Vettel said. “Yes, being a racing driver is a special job but, generally, if you don’t like what you do, then you’re not going to be very good.
“Obviously, racing in F-1, all of us are very fortunate because we’re doing something we loved as a child and now it’s our job — and we earn good money. So for us, as drivers, it’s great. And when you’re successful, it becomes even better.”
DEAN'S TOP 10 DRIVERS
Sebastian Vettel: The debate over who is No. 1 in Formula One is a non-starter. Vettel has proven — even at the tender age of 24 — that he is the man to beat this season on the 20-race circuit. While it will be nearly impossible to match his record-breaking pace of 2011, when he won the world championship in dominating fashion, his Red Bull team has worked feverishly to give him a race car capable of making his championship run a triple threat.
Fernando Alonso: Near the end of the 2011 season Alonso and the engineers at Ferrari were getting closer to matching the Red Bull team. This season, the Italian squad thinks they may have what it takes — in spite of less-than-stellar results in pre-season tests. There are some who think Ferrari was sand-bagging in tests and will bring a much stronger car to Australia.
Jenson Button: Button, 32, is now a veteran of the F-1 wars, but that doesn’t mean his best years are behind him. He comes into 2012 with a McLaren Mercedes team that has reloaded. He should be considered a legitimate threat to win his second world championship. The team is behind him 100% and he has forged a strong bond with his band of engineers.
Mark Webber: Last season, Webber was a worthy teammate to Vettel in the world championship run for Red Bull. He will clearly be in the No. 2 seat for the team again this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t challenge for wins. Webber is a talented driver in his own right and should provide more than a few 1-2 finishes for Red Bull as the season progresses.
Lewis Hamilton: The 2011 season is one that Hamilton would just as soon forget. The former world champion took a back seat to teammate Button performance-wise. But McLaren team bosses think the still-young Briton, 27, has learned from his mistakes and is capable of challenging for wins on a regular basis starting in Australia.
Felipe Massa: The affable Massa is destined to be No. 2 wherever he races, but in spite of that, one cannot discount his 11 F-1 wins — all with Ferrari. If the Prancing Pony team gets its act together this season, Massa will be among those in the hunt for championship points each and every race.
Nico Rosberg: Mercedes pegged Rosberg as their guy to take the team to the world championship. But while the 26-year-old German has shown flashes of brilliance — he regularly out-performs his teammate Michael Schumacher — it has not been enough to elevate him to the level of Vettel, Alonso and Button.
Michael Schumacher: This is likely Schumacher’s final F-1 season. The seven-time world champion came back to the series three seasons ago and has never achieved nearly the kind of results he had in his heyday with Ferrari. He is a great teacher for Rosberg, but that’s not enough to win in F1.
Kimi Raikkonen: If nothing else, Raikkonen could be the comeback driver of the year in F-1. The one-time world champion quit F-1 in his prime to go rally racing and dabble in NASCAR. But on pure talent alone, Raikkonen could make some noise with Lotus this season. It would be a stretch, however, for him to win.
Paul Di Resta: No driver did more with less than Di Resta last season with Force India. Each and every race weekend, the cousin of IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti pushed his team’s Mercedes-powered race car into a position to win points, something that should serve him well this season.
Formula One 2012 Calendar
March 18 Australia
March 25 Malaysia
April 15 China
April 22 Bahrain
May 13 Spain
May 27 Monaco
June 10 Canada
June 24 Europe
July 8 Great Britain
July 22 Germany
July 29 Hungary
Sept. 2 Belgium
Sept. 9 Italy
Sept. 23 Singapore
Oct. 7 Japan
Oct. 14 Korea
Oct. 28 India
Nov. 4 Abu Dhabi
Nov. 18 USA
Nov. 25 Brazil