Exclusive - Sebastian Vettel reviews his 2011 season 14 Nov 2011
Abu Dhabi aside, his has been a fairy-tale season - the handsome young prince defending his fiefdom against foreign invaders, and succeeding because his armour is superior, his attitude purer and his determination greater. And then they lived happily ever after
Of course, Formula One is not really that simple, but what Sebastian Vettel has experienced this year sounds almost too good to be true - and yet it is. The world champion reflects on 2011 - and explains why all he wants now is a laurel wreath to go with that championship trophy
Q: Sebastian, lets start with the simplest yet the biggest question: how was the season for you?
Sebastian Vettel: Well, indeed that is a question that demands digging deeper. One thing is for sure - such a year doesnt come your way too often. It was a well-woven tale right from the beginning without a moment of buckling. The car never let us down - and we never let ourselves down. Sure, there were some small issues here and there, but we never ran into a bad-case scenario - nothing like that at all. (laughs) The major improvement over last season is that we have never been irritated by situations. Even if the boat started to rock we never stumbled - probably something that was not quite there last year.
Q: How would you describe the character of Kinky Kylie, your car?
SV: Faultless! The good girl behaved well and never made any trouble. (laughs) If theres a secret to this season it is that weve taken it one race at a time. Even if it looked pretty good for us, right from the beginning we always went to the next race with the approach that we have to give the maximum again, never playing it safe.
Q: Was the feeling of a great season ahead there right from the very start, when you took the car on track for the first time at the Valencia test back in February?
SV: No, that was much too early, also because we needed some time to come to terms with the new tyres. There were so many question marks about the format of the races - some were thinking of up to five, even six pit stops - so no, nothing was clear in the first week of February. What became clear over the course of the season was that our car hasnt been as dominant as it was in 2010, but what really made a huge difference was we - the people - have grown into one strong force. We have been much more stable and obviously have learned from our 2010 mistakes. It is funny to get comments after a successful race: you hear descriptions like easy, walk in the park and so on - and it was definitely nothing of the sort at any race of the season. Every victory was hard fought and contrary to what people might think, it was closer, much closer than it looked from the outside. Everything had to come together - and that was what was so special, that weve managed to make it come together at so many races.
Q: When you look back at all the races youve won this year, which was the most special?
SV: There are probably three that stand out from all the rest. To win in the streets of Monaco is something very special - and the race itself was something of a curiosity. Before every race we have our strategic meeting where we try to predict the race as much as possible and set out strategies for the ifs and whens, and believe me, to think that we would only pit one time was never discussed as an option, because we simply didnt believe it possible. In the end it turned out to be our only chance for a win - and surprisingly it worked! Something like that youll never forget. The win in Monza was also very special to me. To be on the podium again after three years, to be back on the same spot where I tasted F1 champagne for the first time, that was awesome. And personally the race in Singapore is very dear to me. I think it is one of the most difficult and demanding races of the whole season regarding concentration and after your work is done you definitely know what youve been doing the last two hours. (laughs) But these are just three very, very special moments in a very special season.
Q: Your appetite for trophies seems insatiable. Where does that come from?
SV: Ha, I have no idea - obviously it is a natural instinct after two hours hard work! (laughs) Even when I was a kid I always went home super satisfied when I was able to bring a trophy along - no matter how big or small. But that was not always so. I remember at my first ever win at a go-kart race I left the award ceremony very disappointed because I had seen on TV that all the real racers - the Formula One heroes of that time - got laurel wreaths on the podium and I was fobbed off with a cup! I didnt even want to take it home! But that changed pretty fast and I started collecting trophies religiously. And if youve been very good a whole season long there is one trophy that sticks out from all the others - the championship trophy. At the end of the day this is the one were really racing for. (laughs) The award ceremony and handover is very emotional.
Q: Lets talk about emotions. What was your most emotional moment of the season?
SV: Two moments. Firstly the win in Monza, as it was where I won my first ever Formula One race, so to do it again was fantastic as it triggered some of the best memories. The podium there hovers partly over the track, partly over the pit lane, so you feel almost airborne and you see all the fans and have that amazing view almost to Curva Grande, far beyond the first chicane. I think life can hardly get any better than being up there. It is pure goose bumps and one or more tears! The second moment was - believe it or not - Korea. In Japan it was difficult to switch from finishing in P3 to having just won the championship - in that moment it was all quite unreal. But after the win in Korea it was the moment when I really internalized that I am the 2011 champion. With winning both championships in 2010 we proved that we know all the steps that it takes to win and the crucial thing this year was not to forget each of those steps - and we havent!
Q: What is the emotional high point after having won a race - crossing the finish line, speaking on the team radio with your guys, jumping out of the car and hugging your crew, stepping on to the podium? Which is it?
SV: definitely the podium. Youve done it, nobody can take it away from you, now you can relax and enjoy the moment. (laughs) The playing of the national anthem - when everybody quietens down out of respect - is the minute of a short reflection on the race before the elation and madness sets in. Later, all alone in your room - when everything is so quiet -you suddenly start to smile. First you dont know exactly why, but then you understand that you have a good reason and youre just happy.
Q: Are you a better driver now - after having won the title for a second time?
SV: Probably, yes. But the best thing about it is that you dont have to prove anything anymore - because it shows that 2010 was not down to good luck on my side and bad luck on the side of the others.
Q: When you got back to your hometown, Heppenheim, they greeted you as their hero. How was that - again, after 2010?
SV: It was awesome. And it makes you a bit shy. I have grown up there, I went to school with so many of them, I have seen them all my life, so it is kind of strange - and very touching - that you have turned into some sort of hero. It was very special to see how many young kids were there and that Formula One has become so attractive for youngsters of the new media age. It was very satisfying to see that my sport can connect with new generations.
Q: Youve been with Red Bull Racing for quite a while now. How would you say the team has changed over the years - and in particular Christian Horners role?
SV: That is a big question, indeed. Lets go back to 2009. We found ourselves in a position where we had a very strong car, had been on the podium and won races, but we really didnt understand how we did it when we did it, how to play with the big boys. (laughs) Since then weve learned so much, got much smarter and probably lost the awe for the big names - but never the respect for our competitors. Christian is playing a very important role to keep the team in harmony - to balance it - because only if you all pull together will you be successful. We are all working flat out to improve the car and the team - and get results - and that is all done with a fantastic team spirit, because it is not the product that you start the season with that brings success, but the product that you have at the end of the season after many months and many races.
Q: Looking into the crystal ball, who would you say you fear most for 2012?
SV: There is definitely not one driver I would highlight because we are living in a Formula One era where you dont have one challenger but many - with different strengths and weaknesses. (laughs) That much I can say. McLaren were very strong this year with both drivers - Jenson (Button) and Lewis (Hamilton). It probably wasnt the easiest year for Lewis, but that doesnt mean that this will also go for 2012. Fernando (Alonso) with Ferrari will definitely be there and I also have Mercedes on the list, with two great drivers. And never forget Mark (Webber). So I will drop not one name, but many names. Thats my opinion.
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