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December 20, 2022 5 min read

After Sebastian Vettel ended his incredible 16-year Formula 1 career, which included four world championships, F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto spoke with his father Norbert for a look back at the past....

His son Sebastian's biggest admirer is Norbert Vettel. Norbert, a frequent visitor to the F1 paddock throughout Sebastian's career from his debut with BMW Sauber to his final race with Aston Martin, was a well-liked travel companion.

His passion and pride for what his small kid from Heppenheim, Germany has accomplished make it impossible to speak to him in private. But in public, he seldom ever spoke, preferring to remain silent. Norbert didn't want to be the center of attention or to get in the way of things. He saw Sebastian as the star.

He would avoid the spotlight at races instead. He would ask questions and spend time getting to know the mechanics, engineers, and employees of the teams his son raced for. Despite constantly having access to the paddock, he would spend a lot of time in the fanzone, watching trackside, interacting with fans, and eating from the foodstalls.

He was an avid racer. He adored the occasion. And as a result, he leaves Formula One with a large group of pals from Ferrari, Aston Martin, Red Bull, and Toro Rosso, in addition to others dispersed throughout the paddock.

It also meant it was a challenge to convince Norbert to sit down and chat on the record about Sebastian. But with his son’s career coming to an end, he felt now was the right time to relent.


Norbert Vettel is a popular figure in the paddock


Despite being able to accept credit for Sebastian's achievement, Norbert doesn't want to. He merely carried out what any other father would do, in his opinion. In order to give his son the best opportunity at a successful life, he would knock on every door, work every job, and scrape together as much money as he could.

When Sebastian first became interested in racing, it was because of an electric truck his parents had given him for Christmas. The small toy's mechanics, as well as its motion and speed, intrigued him. Watching Norbert compete in hill-climb competitions piqued Sebastian's curiosity, and as a result, Norbert drove 300 km to locate a used kart so that Sebastian could try out driving.

Norbert, who maintains the perpetual smile of a pleased parent throughout our conversation as he recalls each tale, explains, "He was small, so I added some material to the pedals so he could reach the throttle and the brake.

“We had to pad the seat out, too, as the seat was just too big. We marked out a track with a hairpin near where I worked. I stood at the side of the track, before the hairpin, to mark out where Sebastian needed to brake. That was the first thing he learned – braking points.”

Sebastian Vettel (GER), KSN Team.

A young Sebastian Vettel back in his karting days


On the first day, it had been raining, and the course was covered in puddles. He had already demonstrated outstanding control when he encountered the damp terrain, causing the kart to step out. “Sebastian loved to drive in the wet,” says Norbert. “I asked him to come inside for lunch and to let his sister drive the kart while he was eating, but he said, ‘No, I’ll stay here.’ He wouldn’t get out. He just wanted to keep trying, keep learning. He was fascinated.”

When Sebastian was eight years old, he placed third in a karting competition in Kerpen, the hometown of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. The F1 veteran was a great star in Germany at the time Sebastian first met him, and this marked the beginning of a close bond that led to Michael serving as Sebastian's mentor.

Twelve years later, Sebastian is in Indianapolis in time for the 2007 US Grand Prix. At 10:30 p.m., he phones his father to request permission to board a flight as soon as possible because BMW Sauber has requested him to replace the injured Robert Kubica and make his Formula One debut.

“I said okay – and I started ringing around for flights,” says Norbert, “I left at 6am and flew to Amsterdam. And then to Detroit. And then to Indianapolis. And I made it there late at night. It was crazy, but I made it.

Formula One World Championship

Vettel on the grid before his Grand Prix debut in 2007


“Seeing Sebastian get into his overalls, and step into the cockpit for the first time, I felt nervous. I’m always nervous, whether it’s testing, practice, qualifying or the race. I’m nervous.

“If I’m not at the track, I’m following every session, either watching the TV or listening to the radio or if I can’t get either of those, I just follow the live timing, looking at every lap Sebastian does. I’m always nervous for him. Next year, I won’t be nervous!”

Sebastian drove for Toro Rosso full-time a year later after impressing Red Bull enough to join their junior squad after scoring on his debut. Sebastian unexpectedly won his first race in the rain at Monza, the site of the Italian Grand Prix.

“Seb was every time good in the rain,” says Norbert. “He had such a good feel for the car, for the tyres in those conditions.”

Formula One World Championship

A winner in just his first full season, Vettel's 2008 Monza win set him on the road to title glory just two years later

Three years later, in 2010, Sebastian won his first championship. Up to the last checkered flag of the season, the German had never led the championship. An underdog going into the race, Sebastian got his head down and won the race, which was ultimately enough to win the championship while Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso battled farther down the field.

“This was a nice time – I was just so proud of him,” says Norbert. “Every father, every mother, you do everything for the children. So to watch him go from karting to world champion was incredible.”

Vettel went on to drive for Ferrari, and during his six-year tenure with the team, he did not win the title, but he twice came in second. Vettel was happy to race for the team of his mentor Schumacher because he had sat in the German's vehicle at Maranello when he was ten years old.

At Aston Martin, he had high hopes for a great new chapter, but he was unsuccessful. But it was here that he made use of his platform to advocate for social justice and environmental causes, making a happy father "even prouder."

Sebastian finished third all-time in the F1 standings with 53 victories. Only Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have more victories.

His four championships are equal to those of Alain Prost, and only Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, and Juan Manuel Fangio have more world championship hardware. He ranks fourth on the list of drivers with the most pole positions, behind only Hamilton, Schumacher, and Ayrton Senna.

Will Sebastian miss the Formula 1 paddock, the place he’s called home for the last 16 years? “I think yes,” says Norbert. “This is my feeling. Seb’s feeling, I do not know. When you’ve been in this hamster wheel for so many years, racing since he was eight, it’s hard to know how he will feel now he is off the wheel.

“I don’t know what he will do next year. I don’t know what I will do either. I say to Seb: thank you for all this nice time. Have a good time.”

This is a summary of an atricle written by Lawrence Baretto, on the Formula 1 website, you can view the original article here

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