Sebastian Vettel is a four-time Formula 1 world champion. The man who wanted to be like Michael Schumacher also became an activist on the home stretch of his career. About an alienation.
Sebastian Vettel is not afraid of his farewell in Abu Dhabi. “I’ve thought about it so often and it feels so right,” said the four-time Formula 1 world champion in the United Arab Emirates.
After 16 years in the motorsport premier class, Vettel wants to get used to a different pace, set the speed himself, find his own rhythm.
“I’m looking forward to being surprised, to learning something about myself, to spending more time with my children and my family and to learning together with them,” says Vettel before the 299th and last Grand Prix of his great career this Sunday (2 p.m. / Sky). “It will obviously be a different challenge and a different pace for me.”
First world title in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi. It was here that Vettel won his first world title in the Red Bull in a crazy four-way battle against Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in 2010. At the age of 23 years and 134 days, the former child prodigy, who was really just ‘Seb’, is still there youngest world champion in history. “It will be sad to see him go,” admits Hamilton, who meets Vettel and the current driver class again for dinner.
From Abu Dhabi to Essen. Here the boy Vettel, who grew up with three siblings in modest circumstances, goes looking for sponsors with his father Norbert. That’s before the time when the young southern Hessian will be included in the Red Bull talent squad. Son and father go from stand to stand at the motor fair to find a sponsor. “We never found one, but at least we tried it,” says Vettel many years later.
Close connection to Schumacher
Father Norbert is a fan of Ayrton Senna, son Sebastian quickly thinks Michael Schumacher is great, who inspired an entire nation for Formula 1 shortly after reunification and triggered an incomparable boom. Schumacher becomes his idol. Congratulations from the record world champion for Vettel’s seventh place in the Bambini class later became a close bond between the two. When Schumacher is no longer active in Formula 1, Vettel becomes an advisor to his son Mick.
Vettel entered the stage of the world’s largest roundabout at the right time when Schumacher resigned for the first time at the end of 2006. Formula 1 debut in 2007 in the BMW-Sauber, sensational victory in 2008 in the Toro Rosso, world champion from 2010 to 2013 in the Red Bull. Vettel was “untouchable” in these title years, recalls his long-time stable rival Mark Webber.
In their parting words around the marina in Abu Dhabi, the pilots repeatedly emphasize Vettel’s empathy and care off the track. On the asphalt, however, he is uncompromising. In 2013, Vettel stole his Red Bull teammate Webber’s victory in Malaysia when he disregarded the “Multi 21” team order announcement. At the following Grand Prix in China, Vettel coldly and calculatedly reconstructed the process from his point of view: “In the end, I raced. I was faster, I overtook him, I won.”
A Heppenheimer becomes a legend
Hardness is part of the cut-throat competition in Formula 1. Victory alone requires immense effort. But a world title? Since 1950 there have only been 34 world champions. Vettel is one of them. Only Schumacher and Hamilton (seven each) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) have won more titles than him. A Heppenheimer can call himself a legend.
Vettel sometimes seems out of date. In a boastful sport, he is pleasantly non-bodily. Knowing the history of his beloved sport is always important to him. Ever since he started his career in Formula 1, he has been making notes in his notebooks about where he can do what and how better. He later transitions to the iPhone. He only discovered Instagram shortly before the end of his career. Every year he creates a photo book for the team members with impressions of the ever longer seasons. There is a copy for everyone as a Christmas present.
Like Schumacher, Vettel wants to shape an era with Ferrari. At least become world champion. In 2017 and 2018 he failed in a duel with Mercedes dominator Hamilton. After a power struggle in the management floor and the change from team boss Maurizio Arrivabene to Mattia Binotto, the end of the Scuderia follows in the Corona summer. The German is dumped on the phone, Aston Martin gives Vettel a cockpit.
Human rights and sustainability are moving up the agenda
The thought of leaving matures. And even then, the Hessian was increasingly concerned with the subject of human rights and, above all, sustainability. He is active as a bee protector, and with campaigns against tar sand mining in Montréal, for example, he even alienates politicians in Canada.
But Vettel also reflects on his own dual role. “I can understand that,” says the 35-year-old, when one finds his position as a fuel burner and garbage collector on Grand Prix weekends hypocritical. He is disappointed with Formula 1 management. Much too slowly, according to Vettel’s devastating verdict, the company is committed to finding technological solutions to environmental problems. “We can’t afford to wait,” he complains at a time when climate activists are also glued to the streets.
Formula 1 and Vettel have grown apart. But the love of the sport will remain with the 53-time Grand Prix winner. However, Vettel wants to dive first, he finds the complete disappearance of the former TV entertainer Stefan Raab after his resignation remarkable. In contrast to Raab, who is on the air several times a week, Vettel is never omnipresent. Vettel’s private life in Switzerland with his wife Hanna and their three children always remains private. “There will probably come a point where no one will remember me,” he says of fading popularity. “Nothing lasts forever.”
More time for the family
Vettel now wants to spend more time with his family and devote himself to his environmental projects. But he still doesn’t know exactly what his new life will look like. That he will be world class again somewhere? “It would be a miracle if it were me,” says Vettel.
He will miss the adrenaline rush. He cannot rule out a resignation from the resignation. “Formula 1 has a way of sucking you back in, we’ve seen that with so many other drivers,” said Hamilton amused at the official drivers’ press conference before the final act in Abu Dhabi, addressing his German buddy: “It’s your last Run, but you’ll come back.”