‘I wasn’t axed, it was my call to quit’: Sebastian Vettel states he wasn’t forced into Aston Martin exit ahead of upcoming F1 retirement… while insisting he had a ‘brilliant time’ at Ferrari despite failing to win the world championship in six seasons
- Sebastian Vettel announced in July that he would retire from F1 at end of 2022
- Reports indicated though that he had been sacked by current team Aston Martin
- However, the four-time world champion insists it is his call to walk away from F1
- The popular German driver has been racing in Formula One since 2007
Sebastian Vettel is a riddle wrapped up in racing overalls. Or last week in a T-shirt that read: ‘Climate Justice Now.’ Well, not quite now, as it happens, but at the end of the season, when the quadruple world champion leaves Formula One aged 35.
As engaging as he once was quick, still intelligent and likable, he has transformed himself into an eco-warrior in recent seasons, which he knows is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it proposition in the gas-guzzling game.
Alas, he is not the performer he was, and languishes 12th in the standings. So lightning bright was he as a youngster that he was fast-tracked into Toro Rosso and then to Red Bull. He won all his titles between 2010 and 2013. Heavens, he claimed nine race victories back to back — and we think Max Verstappen has made this season predictable.
Sebastian Vettel insists he wasn’t sacked by Aston Martin as he prepares for F1 retirement
Reports suggested the German driver was given the boot by boss Lawrence Stroll (right)
There were a few turning points in Vettel’s story. His sojourn at Ferrari yielded 14 wins but no titles after two close calls, so that was mission unaccomplished. If there was an emblem of failure it was him binning it in the wet while leading his home race at Hockenheim in 2018.
He left Ferrari and joined Aston Martin, where his form has been sadly punctuated by errors.
And in Hungary before the summer break, he announced he was leaving — not least to make time for wife Hanna and their three children.
But there are rumours he was sacked. The bombastic Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll is not famed for his patience, and it is highly believable he pulled the trigger. Vettel’s predecessor, Sergio Perez, learned of his dismissal by overhearing Stroll impart the news on the phone to someone else.
Vettel arrived in F1 as a fresh faced youngster in 2006 when he was a test driver for the BMW-Sauber team, here he is pictured with Michael Schumacher at the Brazilian Grand Prix
Vettel went on to join Red Bull where between 2010 and 2013 he won four world titles
One theory is that Vettel’s backing of ‘Just Stop Oil’ protesters at Silverstone after they ran on the track was the last straw.
So what’s the truth? Did he jump or was he pushed?
‘No, I wasn’t sacked,’ says the German, sitting inside the team motorhome ahead of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
But now Vettel is looking to move on from F1 to focus on his family and the environment
‘A lot of things led me to my decision. The environmental concerns are only one reason. Seeing my kids grow up is another.’
And as for his stance on the climate?
‘People say I am greenwashing,’ he says, acknowledging the rub in travelling to 22 races across the world. ‘I am and we are, but I try to do what I can. I am fortunate enough to have money to implement solar panels on my roof. I can afford an electric car. I choose to drive to every race in Europe rather than fly, apart from Silverstone and Hungary.
‘Coming to my views on the environment wasn’t a trauma, a sudden thing. It’s just that I have visited so many places around the world and seen changes.
‘Now we don’t have any snow. Forest fires are in Germany, France, London. There’s drought in the summer.
‘Having my own children is a factor in seeing things in the way I now do. Life isn’t only yours.’
I wonder whether in light of his views he might consider either quitting now or working for free rather than accept money from Saudi-owned Aramco, the third of the three biggest oil companies in the world that have paid him his fortune.
‘Um,’ he says. ‘We drivers are not running the sport.
Vettel is pictured in action during Friday practice for Aston Martin ahead of the Italian GP
‘To give you the truth, if they paid us 10 per cent of what we are getting we’d all still be here because we love driving. Yes, we are burning fuel to race, otherwise we wouldn’t go anywhere. But it is not our job to sign up various sponsors along the way.
‘I have lots of ideas and when I step away from the sport we will see what I can do with my money, though it is a very private question. I’d like to implement change and help kids, perhaps set something up — I could put money into that.’
What about becoming a politician? ‘No, it’s a very difficult job.’
Vettel will be replaced next season by Spaniard Fernando Alonso — at 41, six years his senior and the man he replaced at Ferrari back in 2015.
Vettel infamously crashed for Ferrari while leading his home race in Germany in 2018
Here in Monza, Vettel considers his six years in the red car, carrying Italy’s hopes on this shoulders.
‘I had a brilliant time,’ he says. ‘I got to know Italy from a different point of view.
‘But my big target was to win the championship and we failed. I scored too few points. I crashed when I shouldn’t have. We weren’t quick enough when we needed to be.
‘But I have no major regrets. The smash at Hockenheim is a small one. If I could go back, I’d have braked even earlier!
‘But that doesn’t matter so much as that I tried most of the time to treat people the way I wanted to be treated.’
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