Before beginning his preparation for the 2010 World Championship, Formula One phenom Sebastian Vettel, 22, sat down with FOXSports.com to discuss how it feels to be making history at such a young age, the possibility of strapping into a stock car, and much more ...
FOXSports.com: We are sitting here in a rented motor coach as is accustomed in NASCAR. But how does the lifestyle in Formula One compare to the one American fans are used to seeing in NASCAR?
Sebastian Vettel: "We stay usually in hotels and go by car. Some teams, if it's really a busy city like Turkey or Istanbul where the traffic is horrible and the circuit is really far out then they go by helicopter. It's not the habit and some races we use motor homes as well, but not that size. You have the slide-outs in America so this is not very European."
FS.Com: How rewarding was breaking the records you did at your age (in 2009)?
Vettel: "Being the youngest or getting a record for that, I don't really care. What's more important is to win races and we had a very good season this year. Obviously, missed the championship by not so much. Out of 17 races, we had five races that we didn't finish so I'm sure that doesn't help. All in all it was a very, very good season for us. First time for Red Bull Racing, first time for myself and we really are in a position to fight for victories and for the championship."
FS.Com: What are your impressions for 2010?
Vettel: "It should be good. The cars are quite similar, some rules are changing. The biggest thing will be that we are not allowed to refuel them anymore during the race. We will also have slightly different tire model. That's about it. Aerodynamically, from last year to this year, from 2008 to 2009 it was like a big revolution. The cars really changed in looks so for next year we stay similar -- it's just those two things, but it should be not too much of a change. In Formula 1 there is a lot of development and a lot of engineering behind and every team is working very hard to develop next year's car already since May or June of this year. To get ready in February to do some testing and then you see where you are. Every year is a new challenge."
FS.Com: Was this your second season?
Vettel: "Second full season, yes."
FS.Com: Did you feel like you adapted quickly to the new model of car?
Vettel: "I think its different to the racing here as it depends on so a lot with which car as to how good your car is and how good your team is. The regulations are strict, but I would say in comparison to here and what I have seen so far, much more open. Especially developing your car. As I said, every year is a new challenge and especially for this year, for 2009, the regulations changed a lot. The car is visually changed. Some teams got it right from the start and others didn't. McLaren and the last McLaren Mercedes that Lewis (Hamilton) is racing for had always had a very competitive car the last 10 years as well as Ferrari -- this year they were struggling in the beginning of the season to have the speed. I think in general out of these 20 drivers, all of us are able to go quick. For sure there are a handful of drivers that are probably better than others, but I would say the level in general is pretty high. As we have seen this year, more and more at the end of the season, it was very tight."
FS.Com: Did it take a long time for others to catch up to where you were?
Vettel: "In qualifying it was basically tight. What am I telling you? In NASCAR, it's thousandths and hundredths, but also in Formula One this year and this was really the first time in years, looking back for instance five or 10 years to where Michael Schumacher was so dominant, it was the Ferraris, him and his teammate, the McLaren's and then there was a two-second gap to the teams. Basically, whoever was fifth was the best of the rest."
FS.Com: Is that why so many teams dropped out?
Vettel: "Yes. This year it was different because it was much closer with different teams at the top and a different time depending on the characteristic of the circuit, the nature of the circuit, temperatures and so on. Whatever suits whatever team or car at that moment whether they were competitive or not so one weekend some teams were at the top with podium finishes and two weeks after, different conditions and different type of circuit, boom, back in the mid-field. It was very much up and down this year."
FS.Com: Do you think the fans like that?
Vettel: "I think so, yeah. You've still got one-two-three-four drivers mainly in the top, winning the races, fighting for the championship. The special thing is that a couple years ago it was pretty boring from the outside and for people who don't know much and may not understand or are not that deep and follow that close -- it was pretty boring because it was already set. You've got the four quickest cars and whoever is in those cars has 25 percent of a chance to win the race will be the winner on Sunday and that will be the same for the first race until the last race. This year, it was much more up and down. For the spectators, from the outside, it was much more interesting to follow. Those of us, because you approach the race weekend and you didn't know how competitive you would be, for us, I believe we had the best car this year and one of the strongest cars, but still we arrive at a new venue and we don't know how competitive we will be."
FS.Com: Did Formula 1 cut down on testing?
Vettel: "Yes, similar as to (NASCAR). Last year in 2008 -- there was no testing allowed and then also in 2009. In season, no testing so we have a fixed amount of days before the season for testing and that's it. In the season there is no testing or during the season. It has changed a lot because in the past, a couple of years back, I also think that is where the spread came from because some teams were testing everyday and they had much more budget, much more money available and they used it. The small teams didn't have hardly any money to develop and build and especially not for testing. On top of that, they didn't have money for testing. Obviously, it is different times these days I would say and similar to here as in Formula 1 they cut the testing."
FS.Com: Are you surprised there are good Formula 1 drivers that are looking for work?
Vettel: "Jarno (Trulli) is not old. You've got Mark Martin who is over 50. I think there has been a change in Europe, I don't know so much here, but in Europe when you start karting and when you are allowed to start karting, looking back just the generation before, for instance, Michael (Schumacher) started karting and racing when he was 12, which was at that time very early. Most of the guys, they start when they are like 17 or 18 and then a little bit of karting and then straight to car racing. These days, I started racing when I was six or seven years old and all the way in karting until I was 15 or 16. Then into single-seaters and if you look at the time and how long it took and you end up in Formula 1, it's similar, but you start so much earlier. Now I'm 22. You've got myself, Lewis (Hamilton), who entered Formula One when he was 22 or 23, Robert Kubica and a couple drivers at that age, the beginning of the early 20s to enter Formula One -- 10 years ago you were young when you were 25. Another couple of years ago you were young at 27 so it's gotten younger. I also think it's different, I don't know from personal experience, but what people keep telling me about NASCAR for instance, I think at a certain point in your life with a certain combination with your age, you don't get younger and physically I think Formula 1 is a different challenge. With all the respect to the people that are racing here, 40 or 50 years old, I think it would be pretty tough these days in Formula 1. It's just very different. We've got a lot of acceleration, g-force, laterally and on the braking and accelerating, but mostly it's braking and lateral. We've got up to five g's so your neck and the whole body basically, you have to be strong enough and fit enough to resist. I'm not saying these guys are not fit, I think it's just way different."
FS.Com: Mark Martin might surprise you
Vettel: "I just think that at 50 he would be too old in Formula One. There is no one back in the 50s, 60s, there were also people that were over 50 and still racing."
FS.Com: Does the technology keep them from doing that today?
FS.Com: What do you do to workout?
Vettel: "A lot. Different than these guys, we still travel a lot, but not 38 races a year. They have no time in between. We do a lot of endurance, basic endurance and on top of that specific training, especially for the neck. For the whole core stability, as I said, five g's is quite a lot. When we hit the brakes at the end of the straight going into a slow corner, you reach five g on the braking, it's similar to when you go in your road car and you go 35 miles and hit a wall and the wall doesn't move."
FS.Com: Do you have safer barriers on the walls?
Vettel: "We have run-off area. In some street circuits we have walls, not always. Hardly any safer walls. Run-off basically, grass and then some gravel beds, tire walls. It's very, very different and you can't really compare. The driving, probably what happens to you physically. For workout we do a lot of endurance training, we don't have to be muscle men, I'm not, but you need to be strong."
FS.Com: What did it mean to do what you did for Red Bull?
Vettel: "That's why I think this year was incredibly important and very, very positive for myself, but for Red Bull as well. They were in their fifth season with their own team in Formula One, but this is again very typical for Formula One. You see Toyota, they spend more money, now that they have pulled out of Formula One, they spend more money than any other team with hardly any success if you see it very straight forward. Why is that? They spend more money than anybody else, but it's not that easy, you don't need only the money or only the people, it has to be the whole package. It has to be harmony and it has to work. Developing the car, having the right driver, having the right atmosphere in the team, the right approach at any time. Finally then, only that will make you leap to success. As I say, we have regulations, we have to stick to them or follow them, but its much more open than here. This is a basic car, everyone has the same and then they do a little bit within the regulations, which is not a lot. Everyone is trying to do their best, but they are very restricted on how much here and there. For us, everyone builds their own car, everyone has a different philosophy and everyone has a different idea behind it and a different concept and in the end, it's a surprise if you look at the cars. If you look at the cars from far away they have the same shape, but if you go close, they all look different and then you have a qualifying result where everyone is in eight tenths of a second. It all works, it's just a question of which car, which circuit works best. The champion is which car works best at all the different places. Similar to here, we score points per race, obviously the winner gets most, but also you get points for second, third and so on. The consistency is very important."
FS.Com: Some have recommended a podium system in NASCAR ...
Vettel: "Here the difference is very small between first and 15th sometimes in points."
FS.Com: Have you ever driven a stock car?
FS.Com: Do you have any desire to do it?
Vettel: "Not at the moment, no. I think you can't compare. I spoke also to Juan Pablo (Montoya), Jimmie (Johnson) -- it's totally different. The driving is completely, you can't compare at all. Obviously here you're racing in ovals, you've got some street circuits, but mainly you're racing in ovals. The cars are just -- in Formula 1 the cars are so high tech, the materials we use, where here it is much more basic. Not to say that it's bad, it's just different. I'm happy at the moment where I am. A test, why not, just to get an idea. To have a look at the car and the cockpit and you see this huge steering wheel to start, the positioning and then the driving is so different, the racing is different. Here you have 40 cars around you, you have one guy talking to you all the time in the race. Where you are, who is behind you, who is high, who is low, what's going on basically where for us it's more our racing we have a circuit and the challenge is to get the best out of yourself, out of your car and to be the quickest on the circuit, hit your marks, be consistent on the braking, listen to your car. Here it's the same, it's different, but in the end it comes down to the same thing. In the end, there is always one or two or three always winning. Why is that? Because they are just better than the rest. Speaking to Jimmie (Johnson), just to get an idea of how racing is here, I asked him why he was better than the rest for the last three years. It's so much about how much you listen to your car, how much you adapt, you adapt your line and for us the racing line is much different. In the oval, you might think it's always the same, but every lap is different, the tires change, the car changes, maybe the wind direction changes. Here you have the cars with some down force, we have even more so the wind is a crucial factor. Temperature, the sun goes down, racing into the night, the circuit is picking up, there's more rubber and more grip down. You've got tow, you've got no tow -- I think the racing itself is different, but you could also compare so much about the stock car racing in the past. In Formula 1 today versus 30 years ago, I think it's still the same. In the end it comes down to the same things and I think it's similar over here. 30 years ago I think the cars were massively different, but you still need some qualities and bring those together and that's the way to get the best."
FS.Com: Are you surprised that Juan Pablo Montoya has done so well in NASCAR?
Vettel: "No, he's a very, very good driver. He has a very good feel. He's very quick and his natural speed is very high. He has been very quick in Formula One and been an extremely good qualifier so for one lap he is really, really good. I think if you go over and ask him, he will answer much better, but I think that's why ultimately that's why he came here to race. He didn't like the way of Formula 1 so much. Depends on where you are and what kind of person you are, but it can be very political and so on. It's different."
FS.Com: You seem very happy there ...
Vettel: "I am happy. It's probably not as relaxed as it is here, the whole paddock and the relationship amongst the drivers. For us, it's much more in your own world with your own team. We don't have barbeque because barbeque is not the healthiest to eat before a race, which is physically very demanding. We don't have dinner together because you are so much with your own team and always trying to maximize your own performance. Here, it's not allowed to have data and record data on the car. We have a lot so people not only at the race track, but back in the factory work 24 hours a day and now more and more we are in difficult times at the moment because they try to restrict because it costs money. For instance, when we race, when I'm racing, of course we've got all the people in the garage sitting on the computer following engine data, car data, but on top of that we've got people for strategy, on top of that we have a live link to the factory and at the factory we have another 50 people sitting in front of their computer and following, trying to read a problem if there is one, record and then basically spending the whole time between that race and the next race trying to analyze what has been good. Only with the data recording there is so much work so it's different. We spend much more time at the team analyzing data, trying to improve the set-up, trying to work on this, trying to work on that, comparing to your teammate, comparing to others, a lot of meetings. It's very organized where here, it's not meant to be negative, don't get me wrong, but here its more relaxed. You've got your practice, you go in the car, you know what to do, you get out, you talk. Here the driver's feedback is very important as I understand because it's the only source you have. If the driver is happy and he says he's happy then all is good, but if he's too slow then what do you do, you don't know, the team doesn't know what to do. The driver's feedback is the only source and it's very important because you rely 100 percent on what the driver feels. If he feels its tight and its not, then you're going the wrong direction. It has to be, first he has to feel and it has to be correct to make a step forward. After that you have your meeting after and you say this was good, this was bad and tomorrow we do this. That's it, then they go to the motor homes with their families, everyone's got their wife, kids. You have a barbeque and for us, we start early in the morning with the first meeting and then practice and it goes all day, media session, appearance until late evening. Of course we also have free time, but much less at the race weekend.
"I think it depends on who you are. You've got a guy that's perfectly fine with it, you've got a guy that might be pissed off."