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An Ode to Seb: Vettel's Career in Retrospect

By Amiya Kumar, UG23

A couple of weeks ago as I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sebastian Vettel had finally caved and created an account on the platform. Like me, half a million Instagrammers and avid Formula One fans were quick to follow him to see what he had in store.

Seb announced that he was retiring from the sport. Much to our dismay, the distant possibility of Seb’s retirement had turned into a dreadful reality. Using social media to share this news seemed quite uncharacteristic of Vettel. However, in his video he remained true to his spirit: modest, evocative, and eager for more.

While the curtains have been drawn on a remarkable career, Seb leaves the sport still holding numerous records. His first-ever record seems difficult to challenge. Before becoming the jewel in Red Bull’s crown, Vettel had raced for Sauber and Torro Rosso. On the 25th of August in 2006, merely six seconds into his career, Vettel broke the pit lane speed limit and got his first ever penalty. His entry into the sport was far from ideal. Nevertheless, his trajectory in Formula One has been glorious from that point forward. Despite the fierce competition from bigger rivals such as Ferrari and Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel led Red Bull to victory for four consecutive years - making the team a formidable force to be reckoned with and placing them on top of the grid ever since.

The start of the new decade led Vettel and his team into an era of sheer dominance. From 2010-2013, ardent F1 fans witnessed Sebastian’s finest performances, which included highlights such as his neck-and-neck battles with Fernando Alonso, or nine consecutive victories - a record that Vettel still holds. In the three races that took place at Noida’s Buddh International Circuit, Vettel ran out the victor on all three occasions - the final one in 2013 producing the most memorable image of his career, as he bowed down to his RB9, having sewed up his fourth consecutive WDC title. He was F1’s shining star as they entered a transformative decade for the sport. However, as new regulations were introduced and Mercedes got stronger with their ace driver Lewis Hamilton, it became tougher for Sebastian to compete with the British giants.

Keen to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a Ferrari race driver, Seb changed teams in 2015. Ever since he lost his Red Bull wing, his career has been described as one filled with missed opportunities. The German could not mimic his successes in the Ferrari. Nonetheless, he brought home 14 victories for the Italian team, an achievement that makes him the third most successful Ferrari race driver after Niki Lauda and his childhood hero and compatriot Michael Schumacher. Expectations of him becoming a world champion with Ferrari and his clashes on the racetrack with teammate Charles Leclerc overshadowed his many accolades, but the distance of time only makes them stand out more. At the end of 2020, Sebastian parted ways with Ferrari and signed with Aston Martin.

A young Vettel with Michael Schumacher.

In the last few years, Seb has been far from the front runners, often battling it out at the back end of the field making it difficult for him to even score points. However, his popularity with fans has only grown. At the end of the 2021 Grand Prix, he was spotted with a garbage bag diligently cleaning the waste left by fans in the stands. His activism and ardour for humanitarian causes has given him a legendary status off the track as well. He ensures he makes his message loud and clear, whether it be about climate change, LGBT rights, or racism, continuing forth despite being condemned by the FIA several times. While drivers come marching into the paddock marketing their merchandise and dressed in the latest collections of the biggest brands, Vettel graced last year's Hungarian Grand Prix in rainbow attire from head to toe. He is a strong believer of people being given the same treatment regardless of where they come from and who they love.

Moreover, he wanted to use his platform to protest against the regressive anti-LGBT rights in Hungary. Throughout his career, he has given his convictions paramount importance, and this partly is the reason behind him leaving the sport. While he wishes to spend more time with his wife and children, he is equally concerned about the environment they live in. On his shoulders, the weight of his purpose has shifted. The motor oil that keeps him running has changed. He has fulfilled his goal of being a racing driver and World Champion and now his duty as a father calls. More importantly, he seeks to be a good global citizen. His efforts to make a difference in the world of racing and the one we inhabit show that he is just not all talk, but indeed a man of action. Even without social media, he has earned the title of an influencer.

In a sport where drivers are ready to throttle one another, Seb has worked towards developing meaningful relationships with his teammates and companions on the grid. My personal favourite would have to be his companionship with Mick Schumacher, son of the legendary Michael, that makes F1 fans come full circle after having witnessed the older Schumacher’s fondness towards and mentorship of Seb. He can often be found giving Mick his pearls of wisdom, being the first and loudest to celebrate his victories.

He is also known to display his gratitude for his entire team by creating a scrapbook at the end of the year that includes pictures from all the race weekends of every member of the team, from the pitstop crew to even the backhand race engineers. Seb has a penchant for writing and he often even writes letters to people who have been instrumental in helping me throughout the year, some of whom he has never even met. Other drivers have termed him as a geek not only because he’s always obsessively taking notes during team meetings but also because he knows all things about Formula One. Fans saw this side of him in the Grill the Grid Youtube video when he named all the World Champions since the beginning of F1 racing. In spite of being a powerhouse of knowledge, Seb continues to learn from other people’s perspectives and is willing to better himself in any way he can.

At the Yas Marina Circuit, as he takes his helmet off and jumps out of his seat after the last race of the season, the world of racing will suffer a huge loss. He will leave not with regret, but gracefully and on his own terms, leaving no room for regret. I am as excited for what lies ahead for him as he is ready to take on his best race. He claims he’s always been the same idiot, something that has always inspired me to be unafraid of what others think and continue to be myself unabashedly. It’s unsettling to think that as the lights go out and the drivers get ready to race in 2023, Seb will not be a part of the grid, his legacy the only thing still on the track. Fortunately, we will remain secure in the knowledge that the sport is where it is because of Sebastian Vettel, who has left it in a better place than where it was when he began, having touched the lives of his teammates, rivals, and fans alike. Whatever he does next, he will always and forever be a champion.

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