The man of the moment is certainly Sebastian Vettel. The popular young driver with the cheeky grin, at times referred to as the “Babyface Assassin,” seems destined to rewrite the motorsport record books.
Vettel entered the scene in 2007 after an accident to Robert Kubica, competing in only eight races but immediately started setting “youngest ever” records.
One amongst a crop of talented young drivers, his mature approach and commitment makes the difference. To quote Martin Brundle in a recent tweet: “This Vettel kid impresses the hell out of me. Deep thinker, intelligent, humble, a real person."
Born in Heppenheim on 3 July 1987, Vettel grew up as the son of a carpenter and homemaker. At the age of three, he received his own kart as a Christmas present and enjoyed this toy so much, he often had to be reminded to eat.
His junior track record is littered with achievements and acts of determination, even before his Formula One debut. In 2006, flying debris nearly sliced off his finger, and he was expected to be out of racing for a few weeks. However, despite the injury he competed the next weekend with great success.
Sebastian cherishes the day his idol, Michael Schumacher, handed over a junior award. Michael noticed the prodigious talent and mentioned his name to Gerhard Burger. Two years after his initiation into karting, he was signed up as member of the Red Bull junior team.
He became BMW Sauber’s third driver at age 19 at the Turkish Grand Prix, and impressed by setting the fastest lap in practice sessions on debut. In his second testing at Monza, he again set the fastest lap times in both Friday practice sessions. He was confirmed as BMW’s test driver for 2007 while leading the World Series. Robert Kubica’s injury at the Canadian Grand Prix allowed Vettel to race at the USA Grand Prix, where he became the youngest F1 driver to score points on debut.
In July, he joined Red Bull’s Toro Rosso team, replacing Scott Speed for the remaining seven races. In the rain-affected Japanese Grand Prix, he was on course for his maiden podium behind Hamilton and Webber, when Hamilton’s erratic actions resulted in the accident between Webber and Vettel. He bounced back to finish a career-best fourth in Shanghai, starting from from 17th.
The year 2008 started with numerous Toro Rosso retirements, but he finished fifth in Monaco despite a five-position grid penalty for gear box changes. In Canada, he scored after starting from the pit lane. In Germany, he fended off Alonso to secure the last championship point. He impressed at the European Grand Prix by setting fastest times in the second qualifying session. This remained the fastest overall time although he could not repeat it in the final session. He finished the race in sixth position.
An impressive performance followed at the Italian Grand Prix—fastest qualifying times in all sessions, youngest driver to sit on pole and win a Formula One race; barely two months after turning 21.
At the Brazilian Grand Prix, where he ran second for much of the race, he overtook Lewis Hamilton for fourth on the penultimate lap to set up a thrilling finale. This briefly gave Massa the title, before Glock’s tyre gamble failed and handed the championship to Hamilton. Vettel earned the title “Rookie of the Year.”
In 2009, Braun dominated the first half of the season and despite some crucial retirements, Vettel finished a bare 11 points behind Jensen Button. The sobering thought is that if not for a lack of reliability, he could have won his first title in 2009. At the opening race in Melbourne, Vettel was the only driver able to keep up with the Brauns. He was running second when a race incident cost him valuable points.
He won brilliantly in Shanghai, crashed out at Monaco and lost the pole lead in Turkey to finish third. His title charge started at Silverstone with an emphatic win, followed by second position in Germany behind teammate Mark Webber. His fight back predicted a great title chase, but sadly, reliability cost him valuable points in the next two races.
He added another two wins in Japan and Abu Dhabi, but rain spoilt his chances during qualifying in Brazil. Despite a brilliant drive from 16th to finish fourth, this was not enough to prevent Button winning his first title after nine years of Formula One racing.
2010 saw a fast but at times unlucky driver in action, when reliability and mistakes cost him. He worked hard to become a more calculated and consistent driver. This is probably the single most dangerous tool in his armoury, and the change came about after he conducted an intensive self-assessment.
If not for all the retirements and penalties, that season may also have been concluded long before the final race, but we saw one of the most exciting chases in history, leading to Vettel becoming the youngest ever double world champion. His unfortunate retirements in 2009 may haunt him, as he could so easily have been a triple champion by now.
A calm and confident champion returned in 2011, and he rarely made a mistake.
He only failed to appear on the podium twice, once in his home race where the pressure of being the new icon may have gotten to him after an inexplicable puncture on the first lap of yet another pole-sitting race in Abu Dhabi.
The inaugural Indian Grand Prix provided one of his many special achievements. In a career first, he scored the so-called Grand Chelem of pole, win, fastest lap and leading every single lap to further underline his dominant campaign.
What has impressed many supporters is Vettel’s down-to-earth personality and sensible approach despite his phenomenal success rate. He remains in a steady relationship with his high school sweetheart, Hanna Prater, but she never comes to the races as they prefer to keep their private lives private. “Never bring your girlfriend to work,” he once said. He proudly states that she is not a supermodel.
In the stats list, he is second to Schumacher in most categories, but tops the table in championship and poles percentage. His one “weakness” is fastest laps, where he features only seventh.
Vettel scored 75 and is rated second.