When news of Sebastian Vettel’s intention to retire at the end of the season broke in the paddock here in Hungary on Thursday, many people were moved to speak highly of the 35-year-old German four-time world champion.
He has been described as ‘humble’, a ‘great role model’ and an ‘ambassador for the sport’, an inspiration and role model with the kind of career a younger generation would seek. “Everyone in the paddock loves him, you know?” Carlos Sainz said. “You won’t hear anyone say anything bad about Seb. I think this year is about his personality. He’s alive as a human being, not just as a driver.
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His Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll, when asked what he would miss the most about him, gave another little insight, replying: “Well, definitely not the long debriefs! I think he’s good at it. But, joking aside, he was just a great team player and someone who was very easy to work with. He’s a great talent, extremely professional and I think his technical understanding of the car is excellent. He was a great team member and someone I really enjoyed working with. It’s really fun.
One of Seb’s most endearing characteristics is undoubtedly his unfailing love for sport. Unlike the majority of drivers, too attached to their own participation, he is in the category of Sir Jackie Stewart, the Franchitti brothers, Kevin Magnussen and Karun Chandhok, very aware of his history. And he never lost his childhood wonder he acquired from Father Norbert, who raced hill climbs in a Volkswagen Golf and took it on a very wet day to Hockenheim in 1992.
“We got very cheap tickets,” Seb recounted, “and we walked a very long walk to the first chicane. It was pouring rain and no one was coming out of the pits because there was aquaplaning. Then you’ll feel the ground start to vibrate and hear this thing as it streaks past you like a torpedo with this jet of water behind it That I’ll never forget The day, the rain, the sound, the vibrations. That’s why I’m a fan of the old days, they were more raw.
How could you not love a modern runner who read an old book and immediately understood the goosebumps running god Bernd Rosemeyer felt in the 1930s, describing the wall of people streaming into the old Nurburgring?
“When you start racing, you’re racing these other kids in go-karts,” Seb continued. “And then you understand Formula 1 as a kid. They’re the kings of what you do. They’re in another world. These men are heroes. I’m a big fan of history.
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He once said he would like to go back in time if he could, after having lunch with Stirling Moss at his London home and seeing his famous albums and all their old photographs. His purchase of the ex-Nigel Mansell Williams FW14B, which he demonstrated at Silverstone, is yet another testament to this passion for understanding the sport’s past.
We all remember the winning moments in his Red Bull days where he waved a number to indicate number one, and the occasional petulance as lead driver that saw him dubbed ‘Princess Petal’ by others. factions within the team that often lost, most notably in the infamous ‘Multi-21’ drama in Malaysia in 2013, where he pointedly ignored team orders to let Mark Webber earn a legitimate victory.
Or the way he rammed belligerently into the side of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes during the safety car race in Baku in 2017, mistakenly believing the Englishman had tested him on the brakes.
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Or Canada 2019 where, after making a mistake and then blocking Lewis, he received the five-second penalty that cost him the win. In parc fermé, he deliberately touches the P2 marker, then swaps it for P1. Let’s be honest, how many of us wouldn’t have reacted that way, in the heat of the moment?
He readily admits that impatience has always been part of his character: “I’m not always patient in the race, I know that. But you care so much about yourself, you have passion and emotions that drive you.
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Passion… That, his honesty and the way he is so ready to give a detailed and insightful answer to questions during press conferences (or to argue his case to the end with the stewards), as well as the way he wears his heart on his sleeve, are all attractive characteristics of a true racer. If there was sometimes arrogance in the cabin, the sport will nevertheless keep the memory of him as a fundamentally humble and unpretentious man.
“To me, those things aren’t me,” he once told me, speaking of petty jealousies or toxic rivalries. “It’s not like that when you fight on the track; you give yourself room or no room or whatever you do. I always see it that way, that obviously when you’re fighting on the right track, you’re fighting for yourself. It’s just being competitive.
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” This is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an ass when you get out of the car. If someone has done better than you, that’s tough, but I really appreciate it if someone who’s just been defeated comes up to me and shakes my hand, looks me in the eye, and says well done. So I try to do that too, even though I’d like to run away and hide, because I think that’s how it should be.
He added wistfully, “I think these days it would be nice if we didn’t have so much publicity. What I mean is this young man comes along, wow, he’s magic, and he’s not human, blah, blah. Then you praise it, people watch it. Then it’s like people are waiting for something, to shoot him down, so they can say, “Look, he’s not that different from us.” He can’t fly. He is not superhuman.
“But they don’t understand that this guy who came and did things, that people considered special, never kicked himself off and said, ‘I’m doing something special. I am superhuman.'”
He’s always been very private about his family life, but the week after that infamous Canadian GP in 2019 he married his longtime partner Hanna, and his family is the rock that is such a key part of the stability of his life at home. in Swiss Thurgau.
“Yes, it’s my life,” he agrees. “Obviously racing is also my life, but what I’m saying is if someone asks me who you are, then the answer I think I’d like to hear from myself is, I’m Hanna’s husband and the father of my children, and so on. That’s who I am.”
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Everyone in F1 wears some sort of mask, but the drivers need armor when racing. But when they stop, very often you see the person you always wanted to see before. The father, the vulnerable person. Recently, when Seb took his kids to a race or two, many of us suspected what was to come.
“It’s not what I do that defines me,” he said cautiously. “For a lot of people who follow from the outside, yes, of course it is. It’s the same for me when I watch the tennis match and when I watch the guys, that’s what they are for me. But that’s not really who they are. Knowing from my own experience, it’s not like that. I think I’m judged like that. So I think what I said more early is the answer I would like to give if someone asked me, who are you?
He also provided a perfect response when Attitude The magazine recently asked how she would react when she learned that one of her children was gay. He replied that they would receive the exact same kind of unconditional love as his other children.
Lately, her growing willingness to speak out against all kinds of oppression or injustice in the world, not to mention climate issues, has earned her a slew of new fans. His recent appearance on the BBC Question time show emphasized this bold new role that he’s all too willing to play by shooting from the hip.
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A decent man and a racer with some interesting flaws, he’s gone from the shy kid who replaced Robert Kubica at Indianapolis in 2007 to a worthy four-time world champion with Red Bull and a winner with Ferrari. An outspoken character, he has also evolved in recent times into a seasoned statesman with clout, something interesting and relevant to say, and no fear of voicing his opinions.
Until now, when he put on what he calls his “suit” to do what he loved to do, life was good. And now he is preparing to change the world. Although more public speaking on behalf of righteous projects will almost certainly follow, many believe he will always maintain an active interest in the sport he loves and which, in turn, loves him.
As a runner he will be missed. As an intelligent, perceptive and articulate observer, he still has a lot to offer.
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