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Defying his doubts - Q&A with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel

16 Oct 2015

This time last year the F1 paddock was contemplating the end of an era, as Sebastian Vettel’s glorious tenure at Red Bull drew to a close. Twelve months on and 15 races in, his Ferrari career also looks promising - three wins, a further eight podiums, and second place in the standings. Vettel admits he had self-doubts after a tricky 2014 campaign, so, after making the move to Maranello, has he now put those doubts to rest? We spoke with him to find out…

Q: When you left the Red Bull family at the end of 2014, could you have foreseen the situation they are in right now? Uncertainty over engine supply and even speculation about their leaving the sport...

SV: No, nobody could. There are a lot of rumours in the air and I have not spoken with Mr Mateschitz lately, but it is hard to believe that it could really happen. It would mean a huge loss. But in the end I doubt that it will happen. That’s my position - and I don't think I stand alone on it.

Q: Some say Red Bull Racing are the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ team in the paddock, while Ferrari are the ‘dramedy’ team. How much did you have to adapt to that change in environment?

SV: Why ‘dramedy’ team?

Q: Isn’t there always some drama going on at Ferrari? Former Scuderia driver Niki Lauda used the term ‘grande casino’ - big chaos - for the intense moments in the team…

SV: Ha, I hope in that case ‘dramedy’ has nothing to do with dramatic. Ferrari is the biggest of all the teams we have in the paddock. It has been there from the very beginning of F1. It is the history, the drivers… there is something outstanding about Ferrari. So it was a dream come true when I joined - and against all odds the first year so far has been amazing. So no dramas so far! (laughs)

Q: But it is different…

SV: …but that goes for all the teams. Every team has its own unique DNA. Here it’s much about a family atmosphere. The Italians have something special about them. My summary is: I like it!

Q: Does it take a cool German - you - and a cool Finn - Kimi Raikkonen - to bring the team to the fore again?

SV: Well, yes, it’s a good match. Kimi [Raikkonen] is quiet in many ways. Then there is the background that you have according to where you come from. Maybe the Spaniard is a bit more hot blooded, the Finn more cold blooded - and the German in between - but in the end it is the individual’s background I would say. Kimi and I are happy with the team - and vice versa. That’s what makes success.

Q: When looking at you shortly after you joined Ferrari, you looked like a child in a candy store - a bit like in the old Toro Rosso days…

SV: Oh, that cannot be true: I have also been very happy in the years between. The four titles speak volumes. For sure, 2014 was not a nice season. I was not performing the way I wanted to perform - and if that happens it is more honest to show your feelings and not hide behind a fake smile. So about the same time last year I understood that it was time to move on. And the stage I am at now proved me right. I am very happy with how things worked out. Sure, when I joined Ferrari there was never any guarantee in terms of results, but now it is nice to know that we’ve exceeded all kinds of expectations, including mine - maybe.

Q: When 2014 was not going the way you wanted, did you ever have any nagging self-doubts?

SV: Yes, I did - and I am not ashamed to admit it. Everybody doubts himself at one point or another.

Q: So was grabbing the Ferrari offer a ‘must do’?

SV: I don’t want to be arrogant, but I was already in contact with Ferrari. If you are in the paddock you meet each other every now and then. So I’d had conversations before, but back then the time was not the right one. Suddenly last year it was. That made all the difference.

Q: What kind of team did you find after Fernando Alonso’s five-year stint in Maranello?

SV: I was never part of the team when Fernando was part of the team, so how can I compare? Also, so many changes have happened on all levels: Ferrari has a new president, there is a new team principal - there has been quite a fluctuation. And the fact that we were successful early on with a podium, that helped a lot to push the Ferrari project to the top. We have a fantastic atmosphere in the team now. How it was last year I have no idea - I was not there!

Q: If we recap your route to Ferrari: you spoke initially with Stefano Domenicali, you signed with Marco Mattiacci, and now you work with Maurizio Arrivabene… Three different team principals…

SV: It’s a bit strange indeed - but hopefully not in a bad way. (laughs) It simply felt like the right time for me to start a new project. Maybe yes, it’s a bit weird how it came together. I always had a good relationship with Stefano, and I had a good relationship with Mattiacci from the start. I didn’t get to know Luca di Montezemolo too much - I never worked with him - but now with Maurizio and Mr Marchionne things are shaping up and we are on the right path.

Q: You are a very private man who protects his privacy fiercely. Is that for you or your family?

SV: For both. But in the end everybody has to make his own choices. I consider myself a sportsman - and not something else. It is awesome when you are on the grid and look at the grandstands and see all the fans and their flags - a Vettel flag, a flag with your number. These things are fantastic, but I am also a private person - and I want that to be respected.

Q: So no drones above your house?

SV: Ha, I have a gun!

Q: Right now Lewis seems to be testing his talents for ‘life after F1,’ be it music or fashion or design. What talents could you test?

SV: My lifestyle is very different. For now I am happy with what I do and haven’t really put so much thought into my ‘life after F1’. But yes, it is very true that in 10 years’ time I will not be here - and by then I am sure I will have found something else.

Q: But what you do know is that F1 racing is very intense. How will you fill that void of adrenalin, risk and speed?

SV: I agree that it is important to find something ‘real’ after F1, as the potential risk is there that you get bored very quickly and are wasting your life away. F1 is so intense - and imagine, you cut this chord from one day to the next. So yes, you definitely need to find something ‘strong’ to fill (the void), otherwise you could become a sad figure.