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Vettel Q&A: We have to be even more focused without Webber 24 Nov 2008

Sebastian Vettel (GER), Toro Rosso, Japanese Grand Prix 2008, Fuji Speedway, Sunday, 12 October 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 18 November 2008.  
Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 18 November 2008. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 1 November 2008 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso team victory celebrations.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008

Mark Webber’s weekend accident comes as a blow to Red Bull Racing’s 2009 preparations. With so many regulation changes looming, it is now up to the incoming Sebastian Vettel to do the main work in setting up the RB5. After his dream season with Toro Rosso, there is little doubt Vettel will rise to the challenge. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, the German youngster reflects on his breakthrough ’08 campaign and looks to bigger and brighter things for ’09…

Q: Sebastian, Mark’s broken leg will have an impact on the team’s winter preparation. Obviously the major test work will now rest on your shoulders. Could that be an advantage to you, as you will be able to mould the car to your liking?
What happened to Mark was a shame and I hope he gets well soon. I didn’t have the chance to talk to him yet. We will proceed as usual with testing and for sure he will be missed but it is more important that he is back next year to get the new car running. We have to be even more focused down in Jerez at our next test and can’t afford to make any mistakes, as time is valuable.

Q: Looking back to the start of the 2008 season, it didn’t look too bright with a number of retirements caused by accidents and technical problems. Then suddenly with the arrival of the STR3 the fog lifted and you established yourself as a regular points scorer…
Sebastian Vettel:
Well, first of all you usually don’t change cars mid season as we did - in Monaco we swapped to the STR3. It was seen by many as quite a risky move, but for us it was the dead-right decision - and it gave us a dream second half of the season. We had started into 2008 with the B-version of the ‘07 car and that caused us numerous retirements. Performance-wise too we were not there, where we would have liked to be, but everything changed after Monaco. And when we added some updates towards the end of the season our performance level was going up further. We can still hardly believe that we scored so many points - and even won a race! It’s phenomenal.

Q: In that early phase of the season you must have wondered whether you had made the right move in joining Toro Rosso rather than staying with BMW Sauber, even if it was only as a test driver…
Of course. But I wanted to race and when I was offered the Toro Rosso cockpit there was no second of doubt in my mind that I would take it. Sure there was risk involved because at that moment Toro Rosso wasn’t a good team at all, but in the end my race appetite prevailed. If I had stayed with BMW Sauber I have no idea where it would have taken my career. Probably sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move several steps forward, so the decision was right. Hopefully I’ll be able to say the same at the end of next season.

Q: Your season highlight was obviously your Monza win, but what were the other influential moments and what did you learn from them?
To never ever give up! I had four retirements at the beginning of the season. That was a quite difficult situation because I came to race after race and did not manage to finish. That caused some quite frayed nerves, so the need of the moment was to not give up. Me and the team were refocusing every single time, we didn’t back off or try to take less risks - we always tried to stay aggressive and in the end that paid off. And with the arrival of the new car in Monaco we could bank on both our mental strength and a competitive car. That made the post-Monaco races so pleasant. Before we were always thinking of positions around 15th or 16th - on a good race day possibly even 13th - but after Monaco our results horizon expanded significantly.

Q: In the second half of the season you regularly outperformed the Red Bull Racing drivers. The chassis of the two cars is almost identical, so what was behind the difference? The engines?
I don’t think that nowadays there is so much difference between the engines due to the regulations and Ferrari gave us a competitive package all season. We did our job and if there was something to decide we decided and we tried to move forward. What exactly happened at Red Bull Racing I don’t know, but as I am part of the team now I will try to find out.

Q: When you overtook Lewis Hamilton in Brazil you said that you weren’t aware that it could have cost him the championship. Regardless, how did it feel - outperforming a McLaren in a Toro Rosso?
In the end I just wanted to pass the car in front of me - that’s what racing is all about. I knew when I came out after the last pit stop on intermediate tyres that I was behind Lewis, running solidly P5. I was hoping for some rain - and the rain came. That turned the race a bit chaotic, but in the end I was able to pass him. At that stage, because almost everybody was pitting, I didn’t know what position I was in - I just passed him. Thinking about it now and how important that manoeuvre was for Ferrari and McLaren, it was a damned important situation, a very special moment. Who would have ever guessed that a Toro Rosso would eventually pass a McLaren in a championship-deciding race? To pass the guy who is now the reigning world champion is not too bad.

Q: Who in your view is the best driver on the grid?
Kimi Raikkonen, Robert Kubica and Lewis Hamilton.

Q: What about yourself?
I never judge myself. Someone else has to mention me - hopefully.

Q: Next season will see you partner Mark at Red Bull Racing. You know the car from previous tests and you know the team, as Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing share the Energy Station at races, but what about the technical staff? Will your race engineer move along with you to Red Bull Racing?
From the previous tests I did for Red Bull Racing I know pretty much the whole engineering staff and I’m getting to know them more and more. It will surely take some time to get the perfect understanding and finally speak the same language, but we are definitely getting there. And my race engineer will stay with Toro Rosso and I will have new people to work with.

Q: 2009 will see many changes: KERS, slick tyres, engines lasting three races. Where do you see the biggest challenge for the RB5?
Well, we know pretty well by now how the slick tyres will work and I trust that the engineers know very well how to work with aerodynamics, as there will be a significant change in aerodynamics next season. KERS will be the biggest challenge - but not only for us.

Q: At last week’s Barcelona test you posted some very impressive times. How much of the car you were using for those times was 2009-spec?
Only the tyres. You saw teams with new front and rear wings similar to next year’s and some were already running KERS, playing around with the basics. We have a good idea of the ‘09 car and we are going about things in the smartest way we can.

Q: Apart from the test sessions, what is Sebastian Vettel doing over the winter?
Taking time to relax, stay at home, sleep a lot - and prepare for next year.