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Sebastian Vettel Q&A: Maybe I'll say I've lost the trophy…

24 Jul 2014

After four years ruling the F1 roost, Sebastian Vettel is facing a huge challenge this season as his Renault-powered Red Bull team struggle to compete with their leading Mercedes rivals. Vettel insists he remains as focused as ever, however, and all the while he can still mathematically retain his title, it seems he won’t be too eager to hand back the championship trophy. We caught up with the German for an exclusive chat ahead of this weekend’s Budapest race…

Q: Seb, it’s no secret that this is a tough season that must be taking its toll. Have you developed a mechanism to cope with the situation? The number of difficult results must have an impact…

Sebastian Vettel: Actually no, what should I change? I have a certain way of doing my job and this way has been how I did things in my early days and also recently - and it's been successful, keeping in mind that we have won four championships with this strategy. We always give our maximum. We live for the sport and we're totally focused. As long as I know that I've given the maximum and done the best job I can, then I cannot be dissatisfied.

Q: Sometimes difficult conditions can produce great performances, but they don't necessarily get noticed. Have there been races like that for you this year, where you think you've delivered a great performance but it hasn't attracted the limelight?

SV: There have been plenty of these kind of races in the past - and also this season. This year we have made some mistakes, but those also gave us an opportunity to learn lessons, which I believe will make us stronger for the coming races and for the second part of the year. I think we had a very strong drive in Malaysia and Silverstone, but of course it's the winner that attracts the attention, which is fair. Whoever wins the race normally has the strongest package and did the best job on the day - and this deserves all the attention. It's the way sport is: the winner takes it all.

Q: This season you have at times expressed that you feel disadvantaged - for example when it came to strategy…

SV: That is the nature of this sport - and being very competitive. Sometimes you overreact: that is the human factor in the heat of the moment.

Q: But the fact is that it is not really working so well for you. Have you come to terms with the fact that there will not be the fifth title at the end of the season?

SV: It is obvious that it is not working so well, but if I were to give up on the season it would feel like desertion. And mathematically there is still a chance. But even in the past seasons where I did win the championship, I never concentrated on the title as such - I always took it race by race and then at the end was looking at the result. And that is what I will also do this year: I want to take it one step at a time - moving in the right direction.

Q: When will the FIA call you to hand over the trophy - to polish it and probably engrave a new name?

SV: Ha, maybe I don’t have to give it back - mathematically - even if it doesn’t look so likely that I’m keeping it. Maybe I’ll tell them I’ve lost it or it was stolen: “I’m so sorry…” (laughs) Usually I’ve had to give it back in October. I don’t know why they need three months to put one name and one signature on.

Q: So one major decorative object in your house will be missing….

SV: I do get a copy, but of course that’s not the same!

Q: Success tends to change one’s view of things - as do hard times. Has anything changed for you now that even podiums are somewhat elusive?

SV: I don’t see any changes in me since I came into Formula One. True, I haven’t won a race so far this season and I am the first to ask for answers, but to speak of hard times is probably a bit exaggerated. We are still second in the constructors’ championship - and that is a far cry from hitting rock bottom. What is important is the feeling that you are still making progress - and that is definitely the case. Outsiders tend to see things in an all or nothing way - in either black or white - but racing has many shades and if you get the most out of yourself, out of the car and out of the team, that can hold much satisfaction. But, of course, I have no illusions that nothing beats the taste of champagne on the podium! (laughs)

Q: Your 2014 season seems to be all about glitches with the power unit and software issues. Many of the key words this year are usually used in the computer world…

SV: That’s the way the sport has developed. Of course it is not so easy to convey that to the fans - ‘Oh, I retired because I had a software issue. We have to re-boot the car!’ For fans it would be much easier if the engine blew up. You see the smoke - there you go - that’s why he is out.

Q: Do you share [Red Bull motorsport consultant] Helmut Marko’s view that if things don’t change very soon - before September - even the 2015 season could be a write-off for Red Bull?

SV: It has largely to do with where we are now. We are down on power and it is limited as to what an engine manufacturer can do for next season. There are some things that you can do within the season - mostly with the fuel. That could bring the biggest steps. We made some significant steps forward in the first half of the season - hopefully there will be more to follow - but we will probably need more than that. It will depend on how much Renault can do. If you ask me, Ferrari is in a similar position. We all see that changes overnight are not possible.

Q: You’re now in your sixth season with Red Bull. Sometimes a change works miracles. Could you contemplate that concept?

SV: Ha, you are right, sometimes a change can work miracles. When I moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull it caused miracles! Four to be precise…

Q: …so will there be another miracle anytime soon?

SV: I am focused and busy with what we do here, because it is not so easy to make progress. Small steps. I would love to see more reward on a Sunday, but that’s the way it is now. Other than that I haven’t really thought about anything further away than the next season. The contract is clear.

Q: The drivers are arguably Formula One racing’s biggest asset - how would you use these assets to better connect with the fans? In Hockenheim you dedicated much of your free time to them, but there are 18 other races - and 21 other drivers…

SV: I haven’t really thought about that. Probably it would help if we had less technical possibilities to explore on the cars - then we would have more time for the fans. A simpler and noisier Formula One for the fans. The fans don’t get to see us 22 guys a lot, simply because we are so busy. People do have a slightly incorrect view of what happens at the track: I am racing Lewis (Hamilton), for example, but the only time I see him outside of the car is at the drivers’ briefing and at the drivers’ parade. Everybody is so busy in his own team, so busy with meetings - and that is a change from how it was in the past when drivers could socialise more with the fans. Maybe we should think a bit more in that direction again.