Exclusive interview - Red Bull-bound Sebastian Vettel 18 Jul 2008
A hurried Hockenheim press conference on Thursday brought the announcement that Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel will fill David Coulthards vacant Red Bull Racing seat in 2009. The choice of driver was not a surprise. The speed of the decision was - few had expected one until the end of the European season.
Despite some heavyweight names being linked with the drive, Red Bull clearly have no doubt that Vettel is their best option - a dynamic presence who can not only complement the experienced Mark Webber, but who can also act as the ideal brand ambassador, connecting with the younger generation of Red Bull aficionados
Q: Sebastian, you have just been upgraded within the Red Bull family: you will take over David Coulthards cockpit in 2009. What does that mean for you?
Sebastian Vettel: I am very pleased to be given that chance and happy to continue working with Red Bull. I have been supported by them since I was a little kid, since 1999 when I was entering the Red Bull junior program. Of course it is always comforting to know early enough what you are going to do next year, where youre going to be and therefore I can focus now one hundred percent on this season. The way I grew up, the way my family taught me things about life, I learned to do things step by step so the most important thing now is to focus on this year and the remainder of this season. We have nine races left and the target now is to score as many points as we can.
Q: Your move to Red Bull Racing came pretty much as an ad hoc announcement today. Why was that?
SV: I dont know. After Davids retirement we started more or less to talk about next year. He announced his leave from active racing in Silverstone, but he had already told the team his decision in Canada and that was the time when we started to negotiate. We easily agreed upon the terms and it was very quickly decided that I was going to race for Red Bull Racing.
Q: Did it irritate you that suddenly the name Fernando Alonso was cropping up again as a possible Coulthard replacement?
SV: No, not really. To be honest I dont read a lot about what is written in the media, so that information must have missed me. I probably think that is the best you can do as a driver, so as not to get confused too much. As I said I have a very strong relationship with Red Bull so there was no reason for me to get worried and when David informed the team lets say there was a door open and we very quickly decided what to do.
Q: Was it always clear within the team that if David were to step down then you would take over?
SV: I dont know - youd have to ask (Red Bull team principal) Christian Horner, or in the end (Red Bull owner) Dietrich (Mateschitz).
Q: Was Dietrich directly involved in the decision?
SV: Yes, because in the end he is the one who is deciding. I had the opportunity to test for the team in February and as they said it was a good test I think that was one of the criteria for them to say: yes, lets take Sebastian on board. And it was Dietrich who told me that Im going to have the seat next year. So for sure I was really happy.
Q: Its your first home Grand Prix - and Hockenheim is not far from where you were born. How emotional is that?
SV: True, its only 45 kilometres to my hometown so the answer must be yes, it is very emotional. Lots of my family and friends will be here this weekend. The truth is that I know the circuit under every possible weather condition - you actually could say I know it like the back of my hand. I am looking forward to seeing the crowds in the stadium, where the fans are so close that you almost think you can touch them when racing by. Whatever the outcome of the race is, it will be very special for me.
Q: You tested here last week with a very respectable time. With the lessons youve taken from that performance, what are your expectations for this weekend?
SV: It was a positive test. We had a good pace, we were able improve the car, to work on the set-up, we had no problems with the car, that was very important. So I think we will be in similar condition as we were in Silverstone where we were very competitive. It is always difficult to repeat that, but Q3 should be the target and Q2 should be the normal procedure - ideally it is Q3 and then more than one (race) lap!
Q: Since its inaugural outing in Monaco the STR3 has proven to be a car with potential - at the last race it took you all the way to Q3. Would you agree with this judgment - or where do see room for improvements?
SV: Compared to the old car the STR3 is a huge step forward everywhere. The level of downforce is much higher especially, although we are still much faster on the straights. Overall its a stronger car and in terms of pure pace weve been getting better and better since Magny-Cours.
Q: Coming back to Silverstone: Q3 and then out on the first lap due to a collision with Coulthard. Did you clench your fist when sitting in the gravel?
SV: Yes, that was pretty much how I was sitting in the car. I got hit from behind by David, then I spun into the gravel and the gravel was so deep that there was no way out. We had a good fuel load in the car and a good strategy. In the end its hard to say what would have happened, but I think we could have had a good race. We didnt, but after the race David came to me and apologized for what he did, but in the end that doesnt bring me back in the race. Things like that happen
Q: You have been involved in several similar incidents this season. How do you cope with this?
SV: I dont really deal with it. I try next time. Some things are out of your hands. So far weve had nine races and five times I had a collision which werent my fault. Its pretty bad statistics, but what can you do? Just try again next time! We have nine races left to smooth out the statistics a bit!
Q: Two weeks ago it was your 21st birthday. You were the youngest man ever to score a championship point, so obviously you are not the average newcomer. What would you say are your strengths?
SV: I dont know. All this young generation of drivers - Nico (Rosberg), Lewis (Hamilton), Robert (Kubica), Heikki (Kovalainen) and so on - we started karting much earlier than guys from the older generation. They started karting on a professional level at the age of 12 to 15 or even later - we started when we were seven, eight or nine years old. They started single-seaters when they were around 20 whereas we were 16 or 17. They entered Formula One at an age of 24 - we at 20. These four years are probably a kind of explanation. Motor racing is a business where you get very mature very quickly. Already when I was a young kid I was involved in all these questions like: we need money, we need sponsors. I was never just driving the car and ignoring the rest, I was part of all that was going on - also the commercial side of racing. When I was eight years old I was in my racing suit walking with my father around at the Frankfurt Auto show looking for sponsors - looking for money. It was then fantastic that I came to Red Bulls attention, when they first started to believe in me and then believing in me for the long term - without Red Bull I wouldnt be here!