Exclusive Sebastian Vettel Q&A: We must keep our feet on the ground 25 Sep 2008
Wednesday night in Singapore was remarkable. Never in Formula One history have so many drivers enjoyed a night out on the circuit as part of their race weekend preparation. They cycled the track, ran it, walked it - they just didnt crawl it as Red Bulls David Coulthard suggested two weeks ago. Amongst those walking was Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel, the surprise winner of the Monza race. We caught up with Vettel to find out how his life has changed over the past few days and if, now he has tasted blood, he wants more
Q: Sebastian, now that your surprising Monza victory has sunk in can you review the race for us? You started from pole but that didnt guarantee the win
Sebastian Vettel: Obviously it was a difficult race. Starting form pole position I had the best spot of all the drivers, but at the beginning there was a lot of rain and I knew that the only chance to eventually win - or to stay in front and score a podium - was to attack every single lap. Thats what I did! I was always on the edge and at many times very close to losing the car. If you misjudge a braking point after a long straight, which is something that could have easily happened as even in the rain you had a speed of around 320km/h there, the dream could have been over within a blink of an eye. But in the end I didnt make any mistakes and we had the speed and the pace. When I crossed the line at the chequered flag I still could not believe what had just happened. It was a fantastic day for the team and myself. We are not one of the big teams so it was a big surprise for everyone - including ourselves.
Q: At what moment did it dawn on you that you were driving for victory?
SV: I would say about ten laps from the end - when I had no more pit stops in front of me, we were clear strategy-wise to finish and I had a very big gap, which I was able to increase. Then I started to think, Damn, if we continue like this, we will win the bloody race! But after that shot into my mind I immediately refocused again, because the conditions were very difficult - half a metre off line and you were facing a high risk of losing the car. So despite that one moment there wasnt any time to develop any podium feelings!
Q: Did team mate Sebastien Bourdais stalling at the start worry you during the race? Did you fear something similar could happen to you?
SV: No. I saw on the TV screens around the circuit on the formation lap that he didnt start, but as I started and there was no sign of any malfunction on the car, and the team did not make any comments about what happened to him on the radio, I was pretty sure that it was nothing that could cut short my performance in the race.
Q: What did it feel like to be on the podium?
SV: It was fantastic! The pictures, the emotions, the feelings! And that it was in Monza added to that outstanding moment. To hear my national anthem and then the Italian one for the team - in Italy! Everybody was singing, shouting, screaming - it was simply unbelievable.
Q: How has your life changed over the last ten days? Even your old school was renamed 'Sebastian Vettel High School' for a day...
SV: Obviously there was a lot of hype, but after the race on Sunday evening I had a very quiet dinner with my family. On Monday I went back home and on Tuesday I headed straight to Jerez for three days of testing, so I kind of got away from all that frenzy and had some quiet days in the South of Spain. So it was back to business as usual quite quickly. We didnt have much time for a big celebration as the team had to go to Jerez to prepare for the test and we dont have the capacity of the big teams to run a test and race team. But at the end of the season we will have a big party to make up for that.
Q: Monza was all about timing. You and your team got it right in qualifying and during the race. What was the key element of this timing issue, as all of the big boys seemed to get it completely wrong?
SV: The conditions were very difficult. The rain helped us because under normal dry conditions we would not have had the chance to win a race. But in the end the conditions were the same for everybody and we did the best job. We had the best pace, we had the best package over the weekend - both on Saturday and Sunday - so we deserved to win. There was no luck involved, no cars retired in front of me, there was no safety car that would have put us in a stronger position strategy-wise. It was a clean race with no problems. The big boys had their chance and they didnt use it. There was a chance for us to win a race and we were there to take it.
Q: Next season you will leave Toro Rosso for Red Bull Racing. What looked like a promotion might turn out to be a setback. Are you beginning to regret your decision?
SV: No, not at all. I am still convinced that it is the right way to go for next year. Obviously there is a lot to do. I believe it would be unfair to say that they are worse than Toro Rosso at the moment. The Toro Rosso situation I can judge very well. We have been working very hard so we deserved the Monza result and I think that Red Bull in the last couple of races did not always use their package one hundred percent. This year Formula One in the midfield is very tight so if you give away two or three-tenths here, and another two or three-tenths there, then quicker than you think you lose half a second. And that makes a huge difference on the starting grid. You have to get it right but of course that is easier said than done.
Q: You tested the RB4 in Jerez last week, so you know what your future workplace will be like. Comparing it to the STR3, is it a car with potential? You clocked the best time on the third day of testing
SV: Obviously the car is pretty similar, so I think the main difference is the crew, the people. That was also the reason for me testing the RB4 - to get my first taste of working with the people there, with the engineers, and to get a feeling for the team, because in the end that is much more important than really driving the car. I am very confident for next year and I dont believe that it is a step back.
Q: Why did you test for two out of the three days for Red Bull, when it should be important for you and Toro Rosso to get as much mileage as possible for the last four races?
SV: Its true, I tested two days for Red Bull and the last day for Toro Rosso. I wanted the last test day with Toro Rosso in order to get used to my car and my team again. It was important that I didnt arrive in Singapore - a track that no one knows, that no one has ever driven before - in completely new circumstances and on top of that, face it in a car that you have not driven for a while. So I wanted to make sure that there was nothing that could possibly effect my performance here.
Q: Your team mate Sebastien Bourdais has said that your biggest advantage as a driver is that you care very little about the cars characteristics. You simply get in and drive, which suggests that an undriveable car doesnt exist for you. Is that true?
SV: Well, there is a famous quote: dont think and drive - or is it: dont drink and drive? When I am driving, whatever car you have, you cannot change it in the race. So you need to accept it and simply give your best performance. I always try to do my best whatever car I am in, in whatever situation.
Q: Monza was one of those days where everything fell into place. What about the race here in Singapore? There could be wet conditions again. Would that be helpful?
SV: The circuit looks very interesting - from what Ive seen on foot so far. It will be the first time that many drivers will drive in night conditions and with regards to the rain - if it rains in this part of the world, it pours. So well have to wait and see how the weekend develops - lights and rain - no one knows what to expect at the moment.
Q: Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said that the team can feel justly over the moon about the Monza result, but that it was an exception and that it will be pretty hard to score points again at the remaining races
SV: We have to keep our feet on he ground. But even when you forget the Monza result and look at our performance over the last couple of races, you see that the package has potential. Now it is up to us to use that package to our advantage. If we are to finish in the top ten, its fine. If we can score points, even better. If it will be tenth place, but we did a good job, we have to accept it.
Q: In a little over a year you have rewritten Formula One history on three occasions - becoming the youngest driver to score a point, the youngest driver on pole and the youngest driver to win a race. Whats still missing - youngest driver to become world champion? That must be on your agenda...
SV: I would not mind, obviously. There is a big difference between winning a race and winning a championship because what makes a champion is the fact that the guy scored the most points throughout a whole season and that requires consistency and a competitive car. Otherwise, you would have no chance of fighting for the title. Now we are in the midfield and that obviously disqualifies us from fighting for the title. But obviously my target is one day to be in a very strong car in order to become eligible for the title bout.