Sebastian Vettel’s Big Interview with Motorsport
Q: Sebastian, it’s difficult to explain to the average fan that a car that you used to win at Spa and how you did it was not the same from Singapore anymore. How do you explain that?
Vettel: “Why do you say ‘how you did it?'”
Q: Because Spa was a very strong performance, you passed your opponents on the straights and dominated the race.
Vettel: “That is maybe where I maybe have a different opinion to the rest of the people. I think it is absolutely true to say that we have a very strong car, but I think people’s perception of the fact that we had a dominant car, I don’t think it was true. I think if you look at the results I don’t see where is the dominance. I mean, in Spa we didn’t have the pole, whatever the conditions [were]. We got [the win] because of the way Spa is designed, with Eau Rouge being flat and so on. Obviously the advantage of the hill, last year we had a lack of horsepower and that’s why the overtaking didn’t work. This year we didn’t have [that disadvantage], so I was able to keep the benefit from the tow and I was able to pass. But then, as a matter of fact, Lewis was always one, two, three seconds behind. He had the same pace. We were driving to the same tenth, and at some point he gave up. That is why we won with an eight seconds gap. For me it’s not a dominant race. It was a very close fight. If he happens to be first on the first lap, like last year – I think we had the same pace in the race last year. He wins the race and I finish second. I think we had a lot of races that we were very close and we had very good pace in the race, but I don’t think we had a race where we dominated, whereas on the other hand, I think, they had. If you look at Spain, look at France, look at Russia, I don’t think we had any races like that. Don’t get me wrong, because I am not sitting here saying I had a bad car, not at all, because I know I have a strong car. But I don’t think, unlike the people’s perception, I don’t think we had a dominant car.”
Q: How much has the team grown since you joined Ferrari in 2015?
Vettel: “Very much, I think we’ve made tremendous improvements. Across the board, my job is to drive the car – I’m not responsible for the car design or the team structure, that’s not my job. But as part of the team and as an observer, I think we can say that the team has made huge steps. We have very good people, talented, smart people who come up with different solutions, ideas, concepts. All the ingredients together. What we still lack is the very last step, but I’m pretty sure we can fix it.”
Q: Was there a moment when you realized that the championship would be very difficult to win? In Singapore? In Sochi?
Vettel: “Mostly we were not fast enough, you know. Because I think at the end of the day you need to have the speed to fight for the championship. I think I’ve always said last year and this year, that one thing that will determine the championship or will decide, will be if you have the speed. Last year it was apparent that we were very good until midway of the season, and then maybe some tracks that didn’t suit us, some DNFs that we had, we lost momentum. But we lost momentum also because we were not fast enough. I think this year, unfortunately in some ways has been similar, that just some races we didn’t have the pace, compared to Mercedes. They were able to win the races, which was obviously a strong point for them in making sure that they get all the points they can. But we were not able to get enough points, so than within two-three-four races – I don’t need to explain to you, you know yourself – there was quite a big gap. So yeah, that has been a shame.”
Q: The media has criticized you very hard.
Vettel: “That’s part of the game.”
Q: Didn’t it disturb you?
Vettel: “Not really, I do not read a lot. My credo has always been: ‘You’re not as good as they say when they praise you, and not as bad as they say when they criticize you.’ It works well for me. Euphoria can be a good thing, because these people love this sport, and then there are others who are more critical, but that’s part of it. If someone criticizes you, sometimes they’re a little bit right, not always 100 percent, but a bit. And when they describe you as heroes, there’s often a grain of truth in them. But it’s often too much, I think. Therefore, you have to look more from distance, and do not take every word is written seriously and at 100%.”
Q: Do you think that the death of Sergio Marchionne affected the team?
Vettel: “To say it was not the case, it would be wrong. But the team also stuck together very well and it would be unfair to conclude that from the results that there was a direct connection. Of course he was a key element in this team, and if you lose the leader overnight, it’s always tough, but we’re a big team with a lot of departments. To say that they work completely independently, maybe it’s too much. But they all know what they have to do, and that change does not happen overnight, so I do not think the results got worse overnight.”
Q: Everyone is under pressure in Formula One, but the one who wears the red overalls is a little bit more, isn’t he?
Vettel: “Alberto (Antonini, spokesman for the Ferrari team) says that, yes (laughs!). I do not know, of course it’s different, but Ferrari is different too, that’s good! Earlier we talked about euphoria. I think you should not just see that in a negative way, if you understand what I mean. Of course you can complain that there is too much pressure and too much expectations, but it also gives you extra strength if you know that a whole nation is behind you. The Italians believe in Ferrari, and if we do not deliver, they’re obviously disappointed, that’s the way it is.”
Q: The rules are clear.
Vettel: “Yeah, I think so. Of course it’s not easy now, no matter what role you have. But we’re a big team and we’re strong, so we should focus on the positive aspects of that, to know that so many people are behind us.”
Q: It is no secret that you have a very good relationship with Kimi Raikkonen. Do you think that something will change next year when Charles Leclerc arrives?
Vettel: “It’s going to be different for sure, because Charles is not Kimi and Kimi is not Charles. He is young, so he will have a lot on his head and a lot of things in his mind. So I think for the team we need to work together on track. I am sure he wants to beat me, [and] I want to beat him, the rules are clear. It was the same with Kimi. But I think the key is that we work together and, as I said, he will have a lot things going on in his head. I am his teammate, so I am also here to help. I am the last one that is trying to hide or playing any games or anything like that. That is why I think I get along very well with Kimi, because in this regard we are very similar. So we will see.”
Q: Is your role in Ferrari different from Red Bull? Has anything changed?
Vettel: “Not on paper. My job is to drive the car, but of course the circumstances in which I joined the teams were completely different. I came to Red Bull when I was young and did not have any idea how it was. I had to prove myself and we grew together. I came to Ferrari as an adult, but I’m not here to help Ferrari grow. Ferrari was already grown up long before I was born. But when I came here, Ferrari was not at the top. And it’s still the goal to get back to the top, we’re getting closer and closer. I’m confident we’ll achieve it.”
Q: Kimi Raikkonen is staying in F1 with his two-year contract with Sauber. He will be even more than 40 and still drive in Formula 1. Can you imagine yourself like that too?
Vettel: “Well, its another 10 years from now to go as long as Kimi. It is a long time. It’s as long as I’ve been here, so now its half time basically. I don’t know. We’re looking at 400 grands prix… in total. I don’t know, you should never say never, but maybe not. I don’t know. Depends, you know. If I win the next 10 years with Ferrari, than yeah, why not?”
Q: You say ‘with Ferrari’. Are you thinking of a future in red when you think about your future?
Vettel: “Right now I’m here. Of course there are contracts signed, but more importantly, it is when you’re happy and you can work well with people. I’m here and we do not have reached our common goal yet.”
Q: The media often discuss how aggressive Max Verstappen is. You’ve had some close duels with him: Suzuka and Shanghai, for example. Do you think his driving style is a bit much for Formula One?
Vettel: “Everyone has their own driving style, I think it’s good if a driver is aggressive, you just have to be aggressive at the right moments. I think Max got a bit calmer when you look back a couple of years. One way or another everyone finds their way, and there’s no doubt he’s very fast and talented. He’s going to learn a lot in the future. I’m sure he’ll be around longer than I will be. Let’s see what’s coming.”
Q: As someone who fights for the title, you approach the races in a different way than someone who just wants to win the race. Verstappen is currently fighting for victories. Do you agree that this makes a difference?
Vettel: “Sure, you could argue that at the start of the season everyone is still driving for the title, but the approach is not yet geared towards the title, which of course changes at some point. Trying and win a race is, in my opinion, the best way to become a world champion, because if you win all the races, you automatically become world champion, but you’re right, there is one point, when you realize in what kind of situation you are. You should still be ready to fight and not just sit back and become too cautious. If I had been too careful in 2012, I would not have become world champion, and in Abu Dhabi, I twice came back from to P4, and I could have said to myself, ‘Okay, twelve points are pretty good.’ But I saw a chance to overtake Jenson (Button) and in the end I won the title by two points. You can always find examples of this or that, but you should not be afraid of duels just because you’re in the championship fight.”
Q: “A world champion must always be able to play a bit dirty,” they say, “it’s a tough business, and ultimately the toughest will prevail.” Do you agree?
Vettel: “I do not know, partly sure, but on the other hand everyone can decide for themselves who he is and what he stands for. For example, I do not see any reason to be an asshole outside of the car all the time. In the car you’ve got to push the limits and sometimes be tough, sometimes a bit too hard, that’s what you mean, right? In principle, I agree, but the most important thing is to always be yourself, because copying someone is almost always a shame.”
Q: If I say now that Usain Bolt can run faster than the sprinters 20, 30 years ago, everyone agrees with me, but when I say that the current Formula 1 drivers are better than 20, 30 years ago, it’s different for some people. How do you feel about it?
Vettel: “The 100-meter sprint is of course even more enticing for a direct comparison, because it’s still the same 100 meters, the track has not gotten longer or shorter, does not go uphill or downhill. Cars are different in Formula One today, but knowledge has also changed in athletics, and if you were to bounce Usain Bolt back to the ’80s with what he knows today, then his dominance would be even bigger, but it would take a few years from the ’80s to the present day and give them the knowledge of the present time, then it would probably be pretty close. Usain Bolt is a difficult example: in racing, the comparison is even more difficult because it’s different cars, but it’s true that the cars have changed and the drivers too. Let’s take the fitness. Not exactly like Alan Jones, is it? And I’ll never look like an ’80s rider, maybe I would not be physically strong enough for those cars. But they probably could not drive my car either. I’m pretty sure most drivers of that time would not be fit enough for today, but the fitness required today is also different than it was 20 years ago. Cars were different. Let’s take an example: we no longer have a shifter, but paddles on the steering wheel, which of course is much more comfortable, and you do not have to clutch them anymore, which was a special skill that was necessary, some could do better than others and therefore had an advantage, because they have handled the transmission gentler, with the entire drive train, because they have spared the tires better. This may not be a quality in the same form today. Today we have a lot more pressure, the cars are faster, maybe earlier the drivers were so good because they had the right technique in slow corners, but today most corners are fast. On the whole, it’s quite normal for sports to become more professional, and athletes too, of course I do not disrespect that, quite the opposite, but Roger Federer is probably a more complete tennis player than Björn Borg or Pat Cash used to be. Do you understand what I mean? I think the drivers of the past see it that way, and when you talk to Jackie Stewart, he knows we’re doing things today that did not have the faintest glare – telemetry, fitness, and so on. There were no simulators, it was just different.”
Q: Are you a fan of simulators or not?
Vettel: “I’m a fan of the 80s.”
Q: Would you prefer Formula One with more tests on the racetrack?
Vettel: “Yes, it’s always more fun to sit in the car and feel the power, even though the simulators are now very close to that, but it’s never the same emotion, the same feeling.”
Q: Would you test Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday after a race today, as it was the case before?
Vettel: “Depends on it. Today you have so much else in mind, just like the simulator. For example, I prefer to sit in a real car, because it is just more fun. Even today, when we anyway have less driving time on the track. We have a lot of races, but hardly any tests, and everyone has four days of testing before the first race, so if there’s a problem in one day, there are only three, which is not much compared to other sports. A tennis player would freak out if told that before the season he can only train three or four days with the racquet in his hand.”
Q: It is often said that Lewis Hamilton made no mistakes this year. Is it easier to take risks when running a race with multiple titles in a row, as is the case with him? You know that from Red Bull. Is it any different when you’ve just won three world titles?
Vettel: “Sure, they have been dominating the last few years, and that clearly does not hurt, obviously it’s hard to beat them, but not impossible. I did not look at his races so closely, but I look at myself. It always depends – as I said before – how you look at things – if something goes wrong, of course, people focus on it and want to go along with it pointing your finger at something, that’s normal. It’s hard for me to answer the question. He made a few mistakes at the start of the season, and not so much later, I think.”
Question: Do you think that you have realized all the dreams you dreamed of in F1/racing?
Vettel: “Yes, I think so. All of us, who are allowed to drive such a car, are very privileged, to fight victories and podiums is what everyone wants. Of course, I’m disappointed when I finish fourth. It’s even better than sitting in a car that used to be 15th, and I know I’m in a very happy position. I’ve had an incredible life so far – I’ve dreamed of becoming a Formula One driver, winning a race, becoming a world champion – even more than once, driving for Ferrari and hopefully soon becoming Ferrari World Champion. Sometimes I wonder if that’s not all too much, too much in a short time. I’ve got a lot of experience, but I’m someone who always looks ahead. I think my best moment is yet to come. I have won races as a Ferrari driver but we are not yet world champions so I have something to look forward to. Even if I step back one day – maybe only after I’m 40 – I need something that I can rejoice in. It’s important that you always have it. Once I stop, I do not want to keep saying that the biggest win is mine and it was my best race. I find it sad when you look too much at the past and I think you should always look ahead.”
Q: Does that mean that you will be looking for a new challenge after Formula One, maybe Le Mans, like Fernando Alonso?
Vettel: “Yeah, maybe, I do not know. You’re driving not only against old men, who are 40 and older, but also against very young people. Maybe you’ll get slower with age, I do not know, but I can well imagine myself racing in other series. There are many things I would like to do, who knows, I do not have a precise plan, I have ideas that I can keep for myself. Some of them have nothing at all to do with Formula 1. But who knows?”