Sebastian Vettel made astonishingly rapid and successful progress through the lower ranks of motorsport. In 2010 he became the youngest ever Formula One world champion and he has held on to the title ever since.
Sebastian Vettel biography
Vettel spent eight years in karts, winning the German Junior Karting Championship, Monaco Kart Cup and European Junior Karting Championship in 2001. The following year he was sixth in the Senior ICA Kart Championship and then moved into car racing.
Birthplace: Heppenheim, Germany
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He finished second in the 2003 Formula BMW Germany championship and was top rookie. The following year, aged 17, he emphatically won the title, taking 18 wins from 20 starts and 387 points from a maximum of 400.
The following season he was fifth in the Formula Three Euroseries. The championship was dominated by Lewis Hamilton and ASM – Vettel’s ASL team didn’t win a single race, though he was the top rookie.
Thanks to his BMW connections Vettel made his debut as an F1 tester for the Williams team. Still aged only 18, he had to ask his school teacher for time off to do the test.
The following year Vettel joined Paul di Resta at ASM but finished second to his team mate in the championship. A debut appearance in the World Series by Renault proved much more fruitful – Vettel won both races at Misano.
Nonetheless Vettel joined BMW’s F1 team as a test driver and became their Friday driver after Robert Kubica was promoted to the race team in Jacques Villeneuve’s place.
Vettel was fastest of all in Friday practice at his first weekend in Turkey, where not only did he also become the youngest driver to participate in a Grand Prix weekend (aged 19 years and 53 days), but he also collected a fine for speeding in the pit lane on the way to the track for the first time.
He began the 2007 season racing in World Series by Renault. But when Kubica was injured during the Canadian Grand Prix Vettel stood in for him at Indianapolis and finished eighth, becoming the youngest driver to score a championship point.
While running an excellent third in the wet Japanese Grand Prix Vettel collided with the driver in front of him during a safety car period – worst of all it was fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who had a potential victory in his sights. Vettel redeemed himself at the next race in China, again in wet conditions, where he finished fourth.
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Even better followed in 2008, when Vettel dominated the wet Italian Grand Prix, taking pole position and leading almost all the way to win. He said afterwards:
In the race itself I was surprised – you’ve just taken the chequered flag in first the race is over, and you’ve won your first Grand Prix. To start with I didn’t understand and started thinking, “What do you say at a time like this?”
In the end my engineer, who’s a very quiet guy, came on the radio and told me that I’d just won the Italian Grand Prix. I turned on the radio and started talking very slowly and collectedly, thanking people.
It’s dumb – you work your whole life for a moment like this and when it finally happens, you don’t know where you are. But by the end of the slow-dowm lap it clicked and then I turned the radio back on again and screamed my thanks, this time in Italian.
It was the culmination of rapid progress by the team throughout the season. Vettel had often struggled to get beyond the first lap early in the year, but the arrival of the new STR3 chassis at Monte-Carlo followed later by an engine upgrade put the team in among the front runners.
By then Vettel had already been confirmed as David Coulthard’s replacement at Red Bull for 2009. But his second full season of F1 didn’t get off to a great start.
While running second at Melbourne he overstepped the mark in his attempt to defend his position from Kubica and the pair collided. The steward handed Vettel a grid penalty for the next round at Malaysia, where he also failed to score.
This was a setback at the beginning of a year which he ended as runner-up in the drivers’ championship. He won four times, including a dominant wet-weather victory at Shanghai, which echoed his maiden win at Monza.
Later in the season the RB5 was often the car to beat and Vettel added wins at Silverstone, Suzuka and Abu Dhabi. But more lost opportunities hampered his championship ambitions: a crash at Monaco, a collision with Kimi Raikkonen at the Hungaroring, and a mistake on the first lap while leading at Istanbul. A blown engine at Valencia (his second that weekend) hindered his chances further.
Red Bull carried their form into 2010 and Vettel should have won the first two races of the year. But he was hit with car problems while leading in Bahrain and Australia.
He did deliver a win in Malaysia but team mate Webber seized the initiative with a series of wins at mid-season. Vettel was frustrated not just by car problems, but also some costly mistakes. He collided with Webber at Istanbul and crashed into Jenson Button at Spa-Francorchamps.
But he was rarely off the front row of the grid and started ten of the 19 races from pole position. Late in the season he hit a rich vein of form, winning in Japan and Brazil and leading until his engine blew in Korea.
Even so he was the third-ranked title contender heading into the season finale at Abu Dhabi. But as rivals Webber and Alonso hit trouble Vettel claimed his fifth win of the year to snatch the championship in a dramatic turn-around.
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Shortly before the 2011 season began Vettel extended his contract with Red Bull until the end of 2014.
The RB7 was the class of the field once again and this time Vettel used it to exert crushing superiority over his rivals. From 19 races he set pole position 15 times – a new record – and won 11 races. He wrapped up the championship with four races to spare.
Vettel comprehensively out-classed team mate Webber, who scored a single win in the final race in Brazil as Vettel suffered a rare gearbox failure. This and a first-lap retirement in Abu Dhabi following a puncture were just about the only things that went wrong for Vettel as he became the first driver since Fernando Alonso in 2006 to win back-to-back world championship titles.
Vettel successfully defended his title again in 2012 after a season-long battle with Alonso.
Changes in the technical rules left Red Bull fighting a rearguard action in the opening races. Second for Vettel in the season-opener in Melbourne and victory in round four got the year off to a promising start.
But while Red Bull tried to make progress with their RB8 Vettel slipped behind in the title battle and Alonso seized the initiative. A potential win in Valencia was lost due to alternator failure. At other tracks Webber had clearly got to grips with the new car more quickly.
Another alternator failure in Italy cost him points in a race he had already compromised by picking up a penalty while dicing with Alonso. He made a similar mistake with Button in Germany.
But Vettel’s season began to turn around after the summer break. A strong drive in Belgium produced a useful second pace finish.
He collected victory in Singapore after Hamilton retired in front of him. That began a sequence of races in which he was never headed, winning four times in a row.
Having taken the championship lead from Alonso, Vettel’s run of success faltered. He was sent to the back of the grid for a technical infringement in Abu Dhabi but impressively recovered to finish on the podium. Hamilton pinched victory off him in America, and he went into the final round of the championship with a 13-point margin over Alonso.
This proved to be just enough after a tense final round at Interlagos in which Vettel was knocked into a spin on lap one and spent the rest of the race with a damaged car. He salvaged sixth place while Alonso could only manage second, which was sufficient for him to keep hold of the championship.
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Vettel extended his run of championships in 2013 with his fourth victory in a row.
The opening rounds of the championship promised a closely-fought campaign, Vettel sharing wins with Alonso and Raikkonen. Mercedes also started the season strongly, their drivers keeping Vettel from pole position more often than not in the first half of the championships.
But regular podium finishes kept Vettel ahead in the points. They included a controversial win in Malaysia, where he defied his team’s order for him to stay behind Webber and passed his team mate in the final stint.
After the summer break, which also coincided with a mid-season change in tyre construction which helped Red Bull, Vettel reeled off six consecutive race wins which decided the outcome of the title with three races to go. He kept on winning until the end of the season, setting a new record by taking nine consecutive grand prix victories.
Vettel’s title run and race-winning streak came to an end following a major change in the technical regulations. The switch to V6 hybrid turbo engines was not one that Red Bull, and in particular its engine supplier Renault, was well-prepared for.
However Vettel also struggled to get the best out of the RB11. New team mate Daniel Ricciardo fared much better, and on the occasions when the dominant Mercedes cars were beatable it was he, not Vettel, who capitalised.
Vettel slipped to fifth in the championship, and his mounting frustration led him to a major career change. At the Japanese Grand Prix Red Bull announced the pair would part ways, and Vettel was eventually confirmed to be heading to Ferrari, as a replacement for Alonso.
Ferrari had endured an even less competitive 2014 campaign than Red Bull, failing to win a single race, but the team turned it around in 2015. Having rectified some of the fundamental shortcomings of their first V6 hybrid turbo, the red cars were in contention for victory much sooner than expected.
And Vettel was at the vanguard. Having followed the Mercedes pair home at Melbourne he pressed them harder in Malaysia. When the silver cars made early pit stops due to a Safety Car deployment Vettel took the opportunity to lead the race, exploited the advantage of his car’s performance on softer tyres, and took a surprise win.
It was not, however, the prelude to a championship bid. Mercedes were simply too strong for Vettel to consistently take points away for them. He was, however, by far their closest challenger: while new team mate Kimi Raikkonen showed his potential in China and Bahrain over the balance of the season Vettel easily handled his fellow world champion team mate.
Further wins came in Hungary and Singapore: the former thanks to a scrappy performance by the Mercedes pair, the latter as the Ferrari again out-performed the Mercedes on a hot track with soft rubber. Despite a shock at Spa, where a likely podium finish disappeared when a tyre exploded, Vettel even headed Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in the points standings until the latter stages of the year.
He was ultimately forced to settle for third. But three victories and ten other podium finishes was the perfect answer to his detractors after 2014.
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Year two at Ferrari could only be described as a disappointment. More than that, Vettel’s growing frustration boiled over into outright anger as he neared the end of a second win-less campaign in three years.
The flashpoint came in Mexico where Vettel, locked in battle with Max Verstappen, exploded with fury when the Red Bull driver refused to yield a position which Vettel had been incorrectly told he would be given.
Vettel launched into a four-letter tirade aimed at race director Charlie Whiting over the radio, and swerved into Daniel Ricciardo when he came under attack from the other Red Bull. He escaped censure for the former, but the latter cost him a podium finish.
This came at the end of a season which had started much more promisingly. Vettel led the first laps of the season and might have won in Australia had his team not spurned the opportunity to change his tyres during a race suspension. Having failed to do that, the Mercedes easily passed them.
Another victory shot passed him by in Canada. Another flying start put him in the lead, but this time Ferrari pitted too hastily during a Virtual Safety Car period. The deployment ended suddenly, the team failed to gain the benefit from their quick pit stop, and Vettel’s lead was lost.
He ended the season on the podium in Abu Dhabi, his seventh appearance of the year, but it was far less than the team had hoped for from 2016.
Ferrar’s decision to focus its 2016 development programme on the 2017 season, when new aerodynamic regulations arrived, paid off. The team began the season in strong shape and Vettel led the championship in the first half of the year.
This was despite a controversial run-in with Hamilton in Azerbaijan. Vettel, believing Hamilton had brake-tested him behind the Safety Car, swerved into the side of his rival, causing contact. He was fortunate to escape with no more than a stop-go penalty, and luckier still to end the race ahead of Hamilton, who had to pit due to a loose headrest.
But it was in th final sequence of flyaway races that Vettel’s championship hopes were crushed. He took pole position in Singapore, but triggered a three-way collision which wiped out both Ferraris along with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Victory for Hamilton put him on course for the title, and technical trouble for Vettel in Japan all-but killed off his hopes.
Hamilton ultimately clinched the title in Mexico, but Vettel grabbed a final win in Brazil. The title may have eluded him, but Ferrari were finally becoming championship contenders again.
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The signs were good at the beginning of 2018. Ferrari had clearly closed the horsepower gap to Mercedes, and Vettel started the season with back-to-back wins in Australia and Bahrain.
After he’d comprehensively seen off the Mercedes in Canada it seemed Vettel was finally on course for the fifth championship he’d been seeking for five years. But it didn’t come to pass, and it was largely due to his errors.
He collected a grid penalty in Austria, tangled with Bottas in France and – worst – binned his SF71H while leading on home ground. And that wasn’t the end of it.
Having wrested victory from Hamilton at Spa, he squandered points by tangling with his rival on lap one at Monza. This began a trend – he did the same with Verstappen in Japan and Ricciardo in Austin. That left his championship hopes in tatters, and Hamilton duly finished the job in Mexico.
Ferrari’s first victory of 2019 looked to have come in Montreal, as Vettel took his first pole since the previous year’s German Grand Prix and then led the vast majority of the race including meeting the chequered flag in first place. But he was handed a five-second penalty post-race for forcing Hamilton off track, gifting the victory to his rival. In parc ferme, Vettel swapped around the position boards to put the ‘2’ in front of Hamilton’s car.
Vettel did not stand on the podium again until four races later, and his sole win of the season did not come until September’s Singapore Grand Prix. He only scored in four of the last eight races, and finished fifth in the standings behind new team mate Charles Leclerc.
What would become Vettel’s final year at Ferrari was by far his worst in terms of performance.
Hamstrung by an underpowered power unit, Vettel sank to his lowest championship placing since his part-time rookie campaign in 2007, as a single podium at Istanbul Park and six other points-scoring results left him 13th in the standings.
The Ferrari drivers collided at the Red Bull Ring and had a rage-inducing scuffle with each other in Bahrain, then Vettel’s podium in Turkey was actually earned by passing Leclerc on the last lap.
Fifth place at the Hungaroring was the only time Vettel qualified higher than tenth all season, and he made it to Q3 only three times.
Racing Point outperformed Ferrari through 2020, and they also spent the year trying to coax Vettel away from his current team. It worked, as the four-times world champion signed with the Silverstone-based squad for 2021 as they changed their name to Aston Martin.
There was no move back up the competitive order for Vettel, as he found himself once again in a car that was very rarely a podium threat.
Of the eight times he finished a race in the points, two of those were in fact podiums but only one actually stood. In Baku he led the race before his first pit stop and was in fourth before Verstappen had a late tyre blowout that led to the race being neutralised. Hamilton then made an error on the final lap restart, meaning Vettel claimed his best result since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix by finishing second.
The second would-be podium was at the Hungaroring. Vettel qualified 10th but made it up to third on a wet opening lap before the race was red flagged. The track dried, and Vettel ran in second through almost the entirety of the restarted race. But a failure to provide an adequate fuel sample after the race meant he was disqualified from second place.
A positive COVID-19 test meant Vettel missed the first two races of the year. When he eventually returned, he was somewhat was on the backfoot as F1 had overhauled its technical regulations for 2022 and the cars handled very differently to their predecessors.
In a year where Vettel’s off-track actions – particularly his support for political and environmental activism – gained more attention, there was still action on track to talk about. His first points of the year came in the form of an eighth place at Imola, and he improved on that with sixth in Baku.
During the summer, Vettel announced he would be retiring from F1 at the end of the season. Following that, his form seemed to improve.
He had thrilling wheel-to-wheel battles with several drivers over minor points places in the season’s second half, finishing eighth three times and getting another sixth place at Suzuka. His F1 career ended, for now, with a battle against Ricciardo in Abu Dhabi and a single point for tenth place.
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