Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2013

Vettel’s passion for racing remains undimmed despite winning so much so young

2013 F1 season

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Sebastian Vettel, Formula BMW, Norising, 2004In 2004 Michael Schumacher won the drivers’ championship for a record-breaking seventh time.

Few might have imagined that just ten years later another driver would have a chance to emulate his unique achievement of winning five titles in a row.

The 2004 season marked the zenith of Schumacher’s domination of Formula One. In the first 13 races his Ferrari F2004 was only beaten once.

That same year in Germany’s Formula BMW championship a 17-year-old racer who’d cut his teeth on Schumacher’s karting track in Kerpen dished out a similar thrashing to his rivals in a one-make series.

Sebastian Vettel, then a fresh-faced high school student with train-track braces, won an astonishing 18 of that year’s 20 races – and finished on the podium in the other two. From that point his Red Bull-propelled ascent to Formula One took just two-and-a-half years.

Given their shared nationality and Vettel’s growing dominance of Formula One it’s no surprise comparisons are often made between Schumacher and Vettel. To that we could add their committed work ethic that galvanises teams around them. But their similarities only go so far.

Schumacher’s ruthless streak was notorious: he barged into rivals to win championship showdowns and once tried to claim pole position at Monaco by parking on the racing line.

Vettel has not gone to these extremes. Certainly he can be uncompromising – in Malaysia his urge to win overrode his obedience to his team. But this was some way short of Schumacher’s excesses, and it bears pointing out that Vettel’s championship-winning peers such as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have not been above taking matters into their own hands when it suits them. Nor has his own team mate.

At the end of his career, Schumacher admitted that his “win-at-all-costs” impulse had driven him too far. On his retirement last year Schumacher said he’d learned “that losing can be both more difficult and more instructive than winning – something I had lost out of sight sometimes in earlier years”.

Perhaps the most important difference between Schumacher and Vettel is that the current champion has grasped that point sooner.

Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes, Nurburgring, 1954Vettel’s enthusiasm for the sport’s history runs deep – this too was not a Schumacher strength. Asked ahead of Sunday’s race to pick a ‘top five’ F1 drivers, Vettel evinced a sincere appreciation for Formula One’s heritage:

“I don?t think it?s fair to only name… for sure there is more than five. There are different times in Formula One so if you look back recently, you?ve got a couple of drivers racing now but obviously if you don?t look too far back, drivers like Mika [Hakkinen], Michael, Ayrton [Senna], Nigel Mansell dominated their times in a way, [Alain] Prost…”

“So you cover quite a lot of the last couple of years. After that, there?s guys like [Niki] Lauda, [Nelson] Piquet. I don?t think it?s fair to highlight one-two-three because Formula One has changed.”

Vettel may be rapidly demolishing records which once belonged to great names like these, but he possesses the perspective and humility to refrain from judging himself alongside them. Could the same be said of his dwindling number of detractors, so slow to acknowledge how many of Vettel’s multiple-champion predecessors also had the benefit of some very potent machinery?

When this season began it was still possible to argue Vettel and Red Bull were not yet dominating the sport. That is no longer the case: since his late 2010 charge to his first of four titles Vettel has won 29 of the last 59 races: a 49% hit rate.

In a championship which keeps getting longer, up against a field which includes four world champions, that sustained success is truly remarkable. He is not without his critics – no driver is – but with incremental improvements he has become a driver with few weaknesses in his game. He is not the only top-class driver out there, and going four years undefeated further underlines his status as one of the sport’s greats.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2013Reflecting on his career so far on the day before he won the crown for a fourth time, Vettel said his passion for the sport remained undiminished despite the stresses and strains of being at the top:

“When I started, all this was not even… we didn?t even really dream about it,” said Vettel. “I had a hobby and I started together with my father to go racing with the whole family as well.”

“Obviously it became a little bit more serious, a little bit faster, a little bit more serious.

“In the end, I think it?s passion that drives us all,” he reflected, “the love that we have for the sport, the love we have to challenge ourselves, challenge the cars and nowadays instead of racing with go-karts we just end up in bigger cars on bigger tracks with more people watching.

“I think the core hasn’t changed.”

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Images ?? BMW, Bonhams, Red Bull/Getty

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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57 comments on “Vettel’s passion for racing remains undimmed despite winning so much so young”

  1. Nice piece Keith!

    I think Sunday one could see how much it meant to him, he was almost in tears.

    1. He keep winning simply because he drive dominant car by Andrian Newey. If he drive other teams car than RB he will never win DWC. Even he not start from pole position he easily can chase front runner simply because his car was fast enough. If Raikonen drive that RB car of coz he will win 4 times WDC in a row too.

      1. Yes, no one’s disputing that. But Räikkönen didn’t do that, did he?

        (By the way, Räikkönen went rallying in 2010 and 2011 so he couldn’t have won 4 WDCs with RBR in a row.)

      2. Again one and the same ridiculous thesis that all Vettel’s haters keep repeating over and over again. I think Keith deliberately emphasized the fact that in 2004 he won an astonishing 18 of that year’s 20 races – and finished on the podium in the other two in a one-make series. What better piece of evidence for his talent. That guy did perfect job for his team which his rivals are not capable of. Mario Andreti said it once: It is not possible bad driver to win with good car but the oposite is possible. FYI the statistics proved that for last year 2012 the McLaren had the fastest car but they simply didn’t manage to use it’s potential. Whose fault was it? Just think and be competent not a hater.

        1. ohh, yeah, in a national junior race series. Di Reste beat him in the same car, when they were teammates in lower formula. i guess that doesn’t matter. In fact, that 10 year old championship is the ONLY thing vettel won before F1!
          i really hope he gets a decent teammate one day, before he is 35+ old, and we can see finally what he really can do. We know that he is faster than webber. DC didn’t get 4WDC for the same thing :)

      3. Really? This comment seems to be copy/pasted in nearly every article now.

  2. I believe the following statement is the perfect description for Vettel: “If Alain Prost was the professor then Sebastian Vettel is the Dean of the faculty” :)

    1. No, it isn’t.

      1. @TheBass: You are right! Vettel is the president of the F1 University :p

    2. Great :D

      However, I’m wondering how he will handle it when his team will have a bad season. Will he be as flawless as this year or is he going to make errors?

      1. @paeschli: He has already faced a tough test in 2012, and he passed it with honorary degree ;)

    3. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      28th October 2013, 20:26

      @malik no, Vettel is the student that studies a lot and is on the same level of the professor

      1. maarten.f1 (@)
        28th October 2013, 20:42

        *mumbles something about having the best books*

        1. Even the best books do not use anything if you do not understand them! :P

          1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
            28th October 2013, 22:45

            @xenomorph91 yeah, other “students” keep claiming they are the best students and that the books are awful. Another guy has the best books too, but never gets the end of the lesson.

      2. @omarr-pepper: That was before he entered F1 :)

    4. It’s more like “Vettel just got his PhD”

      1. @austus: Vettel got his PhD in Minardi University, 2008, Italian GP :D

    5. Jack (@jackisthestig)
      28th October 2013, 20:53

      Max Chilton scraped his way onto the course after his father paid for the best private tutoring money could buy.

      1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
        28th October 2013, 22:47

        @jackisthestig And Bottas was told his university had tradition and success, but when he entered to the class he was told “You are Punk’d”

  3. Talking about championship winners…

    Why are champions not given the Champions Trophy when they win it? I’m not saying they should carry it around the world, but maybe at Brazil they could handle him the trophy on the podium, instead of risking it that the champion is celebrating somewhere in the pitlane while the podium ceremony takes place up there, having almost no relevance at all given the season is over, and the winner isn’t there.

    It just popped into my mind, having remembered Coulthard annoyingly telling Vettel that he’s not champion until the FIA Gala, which NO ONE gets to see, except some pictures. And the usually boring video.

    Why not hand him the trophy while everyone in the world is watching it? Wouldn’t it be great?

    1. @fer-no65 That’s just the F1 taking itself more seriously than it should.

    2. Well, I can think of a few reasons. Mostly because the championship winning driver may not even finish the final race. Or if they do, they may not be in the points. I’d rather not distract from the drivers who do well in that race by celebrating someone for a different reason (their performance over course of the season, not in that last race).

      1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
        28th October 2013, 22:50

        @geoff332 yeah, I know they may not finish on the podium (as Vettel in Brazil 2012), but maybe a “bigger” podium can be held in Brazil, aobout 30 minutes after the race one. If you want, make the drivers get a shower and wear tuxedos

      2. @geoff332 so what? he retired in that last race but won the season.

    3. +1 @fer-no65. Great idea. It will be wonderful for us fans when the top three are handed the trophy.

      The FIA can have its gala later in The suits & their Spouses.

    4. @fer-no65 they could, but it’s filled to the brim with cocaine.

  4. Another great article Keith, like your Indian grand-prix review! I really enjoyed reading it. :)

    Vettel upped his game, but we could say the same about your writing skills :D

  5. That last quote by Seb… that’s the spirit! That’s what every driver, every team member, even every viewer should learn by heart and remember while watching a Grand Prix!

  6. maarten.f1 (@)
    28th October 2013, 20:47

    What I like so much about Vettel is that there are no off track antics surrounding him, and what strikes me the most is how quick he learns from his mistakes. He never seems to make the same mistake twice. He’s been pretty much flawless for a couple of years now

    1. And for him to be criticized by a certain driver with a famous pop-star girlfriend and his own rapping aspirations. Maybe he should focus more on his driving than on his girlfriend.

      Notice how Vettel does not have a Twitter or a Facebook unlike other drivers. He is not seeking fame.

      1. @f1inAmerica After reading this article and watching “Rush” it just occurred to me that Vettel is like Nikki Lauda (though not born rich like Nikki ) and Hamilton is like James Hunt ….

      2. @f1inamerica Seriously? “Criticized by a certain driver”?

        From all the interviews it’s clear that this “certain driver” has a huge respect for Vettel, praises him on many occasions and maybe even admires him a bit. “He’s on his way to being the greatest F1 driver, if he isn’t already”, said a “certain driver” in a recent interview. Yeah, that’s some criticism :/

        1. @maroonjack
          Over the last three or so years Lewis has on regular basis been moaning about Vettel’s car and praised Alonso. And now suddenly because Vettel is a 4 times world champion he starts blowing smoke up his rear… I am not sure what to believe, apart from, maybe that I shouldn’t take what Lewis says seriously…

          1. @mads The fact remains that Lewis didn’t criticize Vettel as @f1inamerica is suggesting. He also didn’t “moan” about Vettel’s car. Is he a bit jealous? Sure! But is there a driver on the grid that wouldn’t want to have a car like that? I doubt it.

            Every driver on the grid has some detractors, but Lewis’ anti-fans go to ridiculous lengths to twist what he says just to sort-of-kind-of present him in a negative light. It’s hard to take anything they say seriously.

          2. @mads
            Criticizing might be a strong word for it, I guess. But there is no denying that he has certainly been belittling Vettel’s achievements over the years.
            He’s “He isn’t unbeatable, his car is” remarks just to take a recent example. And now he is suggesting that Vettel might be the greatest ever… It can’t both be what he truly believes, can it?

          3. @maroonjack
            of cause… oups. : )

        2. Maybe he should close up his Twitter and Facebook, and this “rap” career and focus on his career.

  7. Great article Keith!

    Interesting contrasts between Vettel and Schumacher.
    If we compare Vettel to Schumacher, Prost or Senna, it certainly seems that Vettel has been the cleanest of the four. Schumacher had his race-ending collisions, as did Senna and Prost had his clauses to stop Senna from joining Williams. But who is to say that Vettel’s career won’t be that chequered at the end. For all you know, he might be the reason why Alonso or Kimi didn’t get the Red Bull seat for 2014. We will probably know only at the end of Vettel’s career.

    I think a more appropriate comparison would be to just take first 6-7 years of Schumacher.

    After 7 years, Schumacher was a 2 time WDC who had already crashed into two of his opponents and was paying the price for this misdemeanors in a slow Ferrari. So, if I am to conclude how good Schumacher is after 1999, my conclusion would be something like – flawed 2-time WDC with subservient team-mates, nowhere after that, paying the penalty for crashing into his opponents.

    In 1999, we did not know if what Schumacher was doing – slowly building the team, putting lap after lap in Fiorano, staying at the track in Enzo’s house – was going to pay dividends. All his now-fabled work-ethic was yet to pay fruit.

    Just like Vettel refused to compare himself with the previous greats, I think we should also not try to compare greats of different eras. Especially, when Vettel is still so young and only in the early stages of his career.

    1. The “was paying the price for this misdemeanors in a slow Ferrari” implies Schumacher landed in Ferrari by accident because he had no other option (like Alonso in his second stint at Renault), instead of a long term plan which is what actually was. So it’s quite wrong to say that.

  8. I hope he doesn’t go down with Piquet as one of the unrecognised greats of the sport in the future. And on that note, I’m very glad he mentioned Piquet in this quote:

    “So you cover quite a lot of the last couple of years. After that, there’s guys like [Niki] Lauda, [Nelson] Piquet. I don’t think it’s fair to highlight one-two-three because Formula One has changed.”

    He may not have been the most likeable figure – and I suppose Vettel and Piquet have that in common, but for totally different reasons – but they are both very, very good. I think Piquet may just have been overshadowed by Prost and Senna perhaps, who I do think were both better drivers. Vettel doesn’t seem to have company that can overshadow him currently though!

  9. I really like that Vettel can speak so eloquently and in such depth about the history of the sport he’s now dominating. You really get a sense of his love of the sport. I think Vettel obviously does have a huge desire to win, but he’s doesn’t have the win at all costs mentality of Schumacher and Senna. This is a good thing in that he won’t try any nefarious or massively dangerous tactics, but I loved that part of Schumacher for instance. He was a genius behind the wheel, but he was also a flawed competitor who never learned where to draw the line. Vettel just seems like a genius. I’m struggling to think of one proven weakness he has. It’s scary that this guy can still learn and improve as a driver.

  10. Wonderful article Keith, while I knew many of the stats, I did learn a few it was a joy to read them weaves into a nice article.

    BTW I did not know that he won 18 of the 20 races in 2004. Looks like he already knew how to dominate before getting into F1.

    1. That is wonderful!

    2. @vettel1 – I think that’s literally the reason why he’s a champ in the first place. Joe Robinson and others frequently talk about Vettel and how he nurtures the team spirit with this little gestures. Like helping them to pack up, buying pizza for the guys – staying behind and have dinner with them in the paddock – giving chocolate to all the female employees on Valentines day – taking off the luggage from the carrousel at the airport for everyone because he was the first thru customs, etc.
      It’s clear when you hear the team (not the usual frontmen Horner, Marko, Newey) talking about him that they simply adore him – which they pay him back with the best car.

  11. Juampa Valverde
    28th October 2013, 23:25

    He’s no doubt on the list of the greatest, but comparisons with the old glories are unfair, as the sport was about other things on the golden era. For me is on the same list as Schumi or Alonso (i think Nano is less consistent but more talented actually), but cant touch Senna or Prost. The only one pilot on the grid that actually makes me remember Ayrton is Lewis on a good day.

  12. Nice one Keith.

    Luckily I dont gamble…because for some reason I have the uncanny knack of picking teams or individuals that just dont win! My record in F1 is shocking. From Eddie Irvine, through the years with Montoya and then Alonso 07 to now! I stopped watching MotoGP years ago when I just couldnt watch Max Biaggi get toyed around with anymore after years of perseverence…hahaha

    ..I guess the only consolation I can take is that Chelsea tend to win something every now and again…haha

  13. great article keith. thank you! this write-up made me appreciate the 4-time champion more..

  14. Thank you, a great read!

  15. Fantastic piece Keith, simply laying out the facts. Providing a space to collect the great things Vettel has to say alongside his spectacular achievement(s). I love listening to Vettel’s often lengthy speeches – always intelligent, detailed and usually humble.

    And it seems he’s just getting started…

  16. “Vettel has not gone to these extremes. Certainly he can be uncompromising – in Malaysia his urge to win overrode his obedience to his team. But this was some way short of Schumacher’s excesses, and it bears pointing out that Vettel’s championship-winning peers such as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have not been above taking matters into their own hands when it suits them. Nor has his own team mate.”

    From my perspective the difference between schumi and vettle and partly the reason why people boo vettle is team ethics. Vettle has shown he has no respect for the team or his team mate. Vettle is on of my fav’s going into next year but if he cant learn to be part of a team then….

    1. @rath – It’s “Vettel”, and given his current relationship with the team, I’d say he does have respect for his team. It’s just that the team clumsily wanted its lead driver not to race, in the second race of the season.

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