Before the 1000th Formula 1 race in China, Sebastian Vettel meets with Bild am Sonntag for an exclusive interview.
He reveals his favorite era of racing, talks about the youth mania in the paddock – and explains why he owns a cell phone that’s over 20 years old.
Q: 1000 Formula 1 races. How many were won by the best driver and how many were achieved by the best car?
SV: The majority for sure by the best driver. Simply because the best driver at the time was sitting in a superior car. As a good driver, you usually have more opportunities to secure a good cockpit.
Q: 1000 races in Formula 1 – which era was the most beautiful?
SV: Clearly the time at the beginning of the 90s. The engineers thought twice about getting more downforce to the car, and that made the cars very fast. At the same time, they were still very reserved regarding technology. I like this mix really well. Unfortunately, I have not driven any of them myself. If I could, I’d like to go back to that time.
Q: At that time you were five, six years old and started to watch the races in front of the TV. Does Formula 1 still have the same fascination for children today?
SV: I think we have the same challenge in Formula 1 as in many other great sports. Formula 1 has evolved away from the core. There is too much show.
Q: Does that bother you?
SV: At least it’s something I like better about football. They stay the same in the core. Whether now the goal line technology is introduced or not, it does not change the striker’s deduction from the goal. But Formula 1 still fascinates me today, so I think that it is still for children.
Q: Formula 1 now markets itself professionally via Netflix. Last month, the first documentary series appeared. Did you have a look at it?
SV: I started, yes. But when you’re in the circus yourself, it’s hard to look at it in your free time. It’s good for Formula One, the series is talking to new people. But I prefer the classic television somehow.
Q: In “The Times”, you said, “New school is to get a lot of attention for little. Old school is doing a lot and getting little attention.” What do you mean by that?
SV: It just expresses the feeling that I have of our time. This fast pace, this constant hunt for sensations. Out of nowhere things are blown up, and a week later, everything is already forgotten. Some people like to be in the limelight so suddenly. But how do these people feel when they are forgotten a week later? I can not identify with that. I just grew up differently. Keeping the ball flat, doing my stuff and not always demonstrating what you’re doing. No man of the extremes. Once all bad, then again everything good – this fast pace is absolutely not my thing.
Q: Don’t you refuse yourself in today’s digital world?
SV: I do not refuse. I have a Netflix subscription (grins). Seriously, of course, I use a smartphone, but I’m not dependent on it. I could live without it. You can not even use things to excess.
Q: So, a tablet never detaches your famous notepad that you use to take down details at the track walk?
SV: We have talked about it in the team before, but just when the sun is on, I do not see well on the tablet outside the track. I also prefer to have paper in my hand.
Q: The possibilities of the digital world could make your everyday life easier?
SV: Of course, it helps if you can read your e-mails on the phone. But I could also do without it. Then I’ll read it a day or two later.
Q: And if the team needs to reach you urgently?
SV: Then you can call. A cell phone was originally thought to be a phone, but almost nobody knows that today. When I call somewhere, people are always surprised that I report directly instead of writing a message. Just: In one minute on the phone, I can say more than texting in ten minutes. That’s why I prefer to phone.
Q: Then you could also use some age-old phone.
SV: I even have one! For a while last year I only used a Nokia 6110 from 1997.
Q: This is a joke, right?
SV: No, really. But then I did not endure it for so long because when you receive documents by mail, you can look through directly on the mobile. But that’s exactly where the danger lies. You always find yourself hanging out in front of the thing and wasting time. I do not need that. If I have something planned, the phone is just in the corner.
Q: Your statements do not fit into a driver in modern Formula 1.
SV: Why? There are many arguments in favour of our digital world, but just as many against it. We just got used to the fact that everything is possible today. The question is, if I really need that. I am not an opponent of progress. The episode with the old Nokia is over. But I would be proud if I had kept that up. (Laughs)
Q: Yet, today’s motorsport is much more technically complicated than it used to be. Are young drivers then in advantage, because they have more interest for technology?
SV: I think the average age of the drivers has generally dropped. The training has become much better, they have more opportunities in the youth field to exhaust certain things. Drivers mature earlier today. Whether you have the necessary maturity for Formula 1, it still decides how fast you really are. In any case, there is a tendency for younger drivers to be ready for big tasks sooner. I was successful in our sport very early on. Formula 1 is not exotic, but follows only a general trend. In football, Jadon Sancho from BVB or Kylian Mbappé from Paris are world-class even at a very young age, even though they are still very young players.
Q: You are now 31. For how long you will keep driving?
SV: I will always drive something, as long as nobody takes away my driver’s license. (Laughs)
Q: And professional racing?
SV: The question arises for what counts as a professional racing sport. I have a contract with Ferrari only until the end of 2020, so still as long as that in any case. Formula E or touring cars are something I exclude my self from at the moment.