The new Renault-powered RB10 has been plagued by technical issues since its launch in Spain, and that’s meant that whilst their rivals have racked up the mileage, Vettel has spent much of pre-season in the garage. But, as the German told us during some unscheduled downtime in Bahrain, he’s not giving up hope yet…
Q: Sebastian, you said that in previous years, the pre-season tests have given a bit of an indication as to the season ahead. So what are the indications now?
Sebastian Vettel: Well, right now it is not an easy situation, but there is no reason to hang the head. In the end nothing has happened so far. Of course, we are missing the test mileage, but we are looking ahead and in Melbourne we will know how far away we are and how our situation really is, as it is then and there that we can measure ourselves with others.
Q: There is the impression that you’ve been jostled from cloud number nine…
SV: Ah, that almost sounds like a fairytale! But in reality it is very seldom that a driver who was dominating the last races of a season is also dominating the first races of a new season, especially when such massive changes come into play. We’ve been lucky in the previous years, but I hope that in the course of the season we will get back there.
Q: What does Friday’s engine homologation decision mean for you? Renault had reportedly hoped to delay the homologation date, but that request was denied. Now you will have to run with this engine - come rain come shine…
SV: It does not help. Obviously we are behind our competitors, so have to catch up in the remaining time as good as we can. I believe that the manifoldness of our issues is not in direct connection with the homologation of the engine. More precisely: with the engine and the way it was built, but more how we are dealing with it, I hope it will not haunt us over the season.
Q: When reflecting on the troubled times that you’re facing right now, can it be that we will see you sooner rather than later in a Ferrari?
SV: One thing has nothing to do with the other. I am not one to switch horses at the slightest indication of troubles. We’ve had fantastic years with Renault and I always said to myself: keep your feet on the ground and enjoy the moment as nothing is for granted. Right now, nothing is lost - no race has been run, no point has been allocated - but when I listen to some media we are right in the middle of a huge disaster. There is massive hype and most people don’t know what they are talking about. Yes, sometimes you make mistakes, but there is no team in the paddock who can say that they can run a day without any issues. True there are some that have had less than we have, but we will fight through it. Everybody in the team - including me - is ready to fight. We have been growing together to such an extent that we are strong enough to dive through tough times.
Q: Would you be surprised to finish the Melbourne race?
SV: No, I expect that. That is the target. Wouldn’t it be stupid to sit on the grid telling yourself ‘ah, so what - I am out anyway after half the distance!’ You don’t fly that far to retire early! And the car that will race in Melbourne is only optically the car that is here - the inner life will be different. We have understood some things, but it takes a bit of time to put it on the car. Only in a cartoon reality would it be on the car immediately. (laughs)
Q: Right from the start of the test season you said that Formula One racing had changed immensely. Can you explain where the biggest changes are for you?
SV: Well, it is no secret that I still haven’t had as much of a taste of the new car as I should have, so one might argue that my impressions mainly come from hearsay. (laughs) But hear is a good line: I find it pretty sad that F1 cars no longer sound like F1 cars. That’s a shame! It is even quite quiet in the car - and that is probably the only upside to these ‘muted’ cars: the team radio conversations are very clear. So no excuses for anybody this season about not having understood what your guys on the pit wall are saying!
Q: The feeling is that this season will favours drivers who are good at multi-tasking. Is that true or is the reality that you only have a few more buttons to push and the rest is exaggerated?
SV: It’s not about pushing two more buttons - probably there are fewer buttons than last year - it’s more the management of the system, and in this respect drivers are right now at the periphery. So it is a learning process for all of us.
Q: So will the drivers be using the radio more? Are the days of Kimi Raikkonen telling his pit wall to ‘leave him alone’ over?
SV: Right now I am very happy that there is somebody on the other end of the team radio feeding me with information. It is a hell of a task to understand how all the components function and what to do to get the maximum out of the limitations. I am sure that in the course of the season things will become clearer and car/pit wall communication will fall back to a normal dimension.
Q: For four years you’ve started the season as the title favourite. Did you get used to that?
SV: No, not at all. I think it all depends on your own expectations. Of course our expectations were quite high in the last couple of years - especially after the first tests when you realised that things were moving into the right direction. But setting the target for the season happens after the first few races. Never let good - or in the current situation, bad - indications lead you to any premature assumptions.
Q: As far as you have experienced it: how big is the ‘fun factor’ in the new cars? In the past years you’ve always had a very personal relationship with your machines, giving them quite exotic names…
SV: Ah, it feels quite well - but that under the premise that I haven’t really done a lot of laps so far. It is a step back - F1 is slower than last year - but how much slower we will see once we get the car in a condition where we can start to look for speed.
Q: You have a new team mate in Daniel Ricciardo. What is your understanding of the relationship between team mates? To what extent is F1 a team sport and to what extent is it an ego trip?
SV: We have a strong driver line-up - Daniel is new to the team but I am sure he will give me a hard time, as I will try to give him a hard time! As everything is new it will be a good opportunity for us to get used to working together as everyone else gets into the rhythm as well. But in the end, which means in the race, I for sure want to first of all beat my team mate.
Q: Will having somebody new next to you have any effect on your season? What’s your guess?
SV: It doesn’t change that much - it’s a different name and a different guy, but the team is used to working with different drivers. Surely the first year might be difficult for him and the team just to get to know each other, so I may have an advantage there, but he’s very talented and bright and I’m sure he will adapt quickly. The team will help him, so in the end we are the strongest team that we can be.
Q: You have started 120 F1 races and won 39. Can you remember what was the toughest?
SV: The race where I’ve been physically on the end of the ropes was my first F1 race at Indianapolis. It was neither hot nor was the race particularly long, but I was completely finished. Of course I didn’t show it, as I wanted to demonstrate that I was ready for an F1 cockpit, but the next day every inch of my body was hurting. But that was quite some time ago - and it never happened to that extent again.
Q: You’ll shortly be living out of a suitcase every fortnight. Are you still packing yourself?
SV: Of course! I want to know what I am carrying with me. If I didn’t do it myself I’m sure I would run into a situation sooner or later where I would complain over something - as a German you very easily come to such a point - (laughs) and that’s why I prefer to do it myself.
Q: The intense travel and your tight schedule should make you the prototypical online-shopper. Are you?
SV: To be honest I am rather old-fashioned. For the things I wear on my body I’d rather walk into a store and try it on. I am not one who imagines from a small picture on a monitor how an item would suit me. If I shop for something then I want an immediate mirror test!
Q: What kind of internet user are you then? You are known for avoiding social networks…
SV: I follow sports, mainly football and tennis. A bit of browsing through newspapers, but that’s about it. I try not to waste too much time on the computer.
Q: It’s seven weeks since you became father to a little baby girl. How do you balance your family life with your career?
SV: I will handle it as I have always done: I keep the private private!