Sebastian Vettel – Four-time champion bows out as an F1 great on and off the track – Sport Prot Prot

F1, formula1, Sebastian Vettel - Four-time champion bows out as an F1 great on and off the track, sport

Sebastian Vettel leaves Formula 1 at the end of one of the sport’s most illustrious careers knowing he is as admired as a person off track as much as he is for his achievements on it.

The 35-year-old German ended his career with a 10th place and solitary point for Aston Martin at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but that will not be what he remembers from his swansong weekend in a sport in which he has been a major figure for the past decade and a half.

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Vettel spent the entire four days at Yas Marina being left in no doubt about the high regard in which he is held throughout the sport, by fellow drivers, teams and the media.

It started with a media day on Thursday in which several colleagues paid tribute to him, followed by a dinner with all the other drivers, which was the suggestion of Lewis Hamilton and for which the seven-time champion picked up the bill.

On Friday, at a meeting of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, Vettel was presented with a trophy by chairman Alex Wurz in recognition of his “long-standing and exceptional services to the GPDA”.

On Saturday, Vettel invited everyone in F1 to join him in running or walking the track – and hundreds took up the opportunity.

And on Sunday, his old rival Fernando Alonso, who started alongside him on the fifth row, told Vettel before the race that he would not attack on the opening lap. Quite a mark of respect from a man of such competitive intensity, with whom Vettel in the past has not always enjoyed the easiest of relationships.

Alonso had said on Thursday that their careers would always be linked because of the two title battles they fought in 2010 and 2012, and indeed they spent the first half of the race running together, stuck behind Alonso’s team-mate Esteban Ocon, before strategy diverged their evenings.

After the race, Vettel was struggling to compute all the emotions coursing through him.

“I feel a bit empty,” he said. “It’s been a big weekend. The last two years have been disappointing but there are more important things in life.

“It’s a huge privilege to be in the position I’m in. I hope I can pass this on to the other drivers, the responsibility. There are things far bigger and more important than racing in circles.

“It’s been very special for me to have that kind of farewell. I had a great time and was able to enjoy success and win championships. From the sporting point of view, it’s been huge, but also I have been able to grow and mature in many ways, reflect about a lot of things.”

A career to rank with the greatest

Vettel’s achievements have guaranteed him a place in the history books. His 53 wins put him third on the all-time list behind only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. He equalled Alain Prost’s mark of four world titles, and only Hamilton, Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio are ahead. At 57 pole positions, he fell short of only Hamilton, Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.

In his pomp at Red Bull from 2010-13, when he won his four consecutive championships, Vettel was a winning machine, with what Daniel Ricciardo described this weekend as “a relentless approach, like he just wasn’t satisfied; he just wanted to ultimately destroy the competition”.

Vettel was less convincing in his years at Ferrari, which were peppered by mistakes that helped derail title campaigns in 2017 and 2018. But still in his six seasons there he scored more wins for the Italian legends than anyone other than Schumacher and Niki Lauda has achieved.

In the Red Bull period, Vettel was always funny and engaging, with an Anglophile sense of humour and love of the Beatles and Monty Python. But his ruthless will to win sometimes left him cast as the villain, particularly in his sometimes bitter fights with team-mate Mark Webber.

This was perhaps best summed up by his defiant reaction to criticism of his decision to ignore team orders not to overtake Webber for victory in Malaysia in 2013: “I was faster. I passed him. I won.”

But as success became harder to come by, Vettel matured and mellowed, even if sometimes the competitive red mist could descend, such as when he banged wheels with Hamilton in Baku in 2017, wrongly thinking he had been ‘brake-tested’.

Vettel interrupted Hamilton in a news conference on Thursday to address this episode.

“I’m actually quite sorry,” he said. “It’s your answer, but I think Baku wasn’t a great moment, because what I did wasn’t right. But actually from that moment onwards…”

“Our friendship got better,” Hamilton said.

“Yeah, a lot better,” Vettel said. “So I don’t want that moment to… not happen, if you see what I mean.”

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