Saturday, September 25, 2010

Exclusive Q&A with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel still has his eyes firmly fixed on the 2010 title. With his disappointing Belgian race already long forgotten, and his fourth-place finish at the last round in Italy keeping him in touch with the championship leaders, Vettel is optimistic he will enjoy a positive Singapore Grand Prix and keep his title dreams alive. We caught up with the young German driver at the Marina Bay circuit to discuss his season so far and his hopes for Sunday’s race…

Q: Sebastian, you have scored seven pole positions out of a possible 15 so far this season, but have won only twice. Does that worry you?
Sebastian Vettel: No, because you always know why something happened and you draw self-confidence from that fact. Every race that I started from pole position had its own history and drama. The really important thing is that when you come home in the evening you are able to look yourself in the mirror - no matter how the race has been. It’s very important to be honest with yourself and not try and sugar coat anything. Then you can easily live with anything that comes your way.

Q: You seem to be able to get over things very quickly. You are not haunted by ‘what ifs’. How do you do that?
SV: I can’t tell! I guess my dad chews on things much more then I do. For me, as long as you understood what happened and why, then you can accept it. For example, you are in the lead and the engine blows, and then you naturally want to understand why it happened. You immediately think question if it was your mistake or you have been too aggressive. But if it was none of those factors and you have understood why it happened, then you just move on. That is the only way you can handle such situations, in order to be fully there for the next race. I think if you move to the top of the mountain and the air is getting thinner up there, then you have to be strong headed. I would argue that there are many racing drivers who can drive incredibly quickly, but being able to reach the ultimate goal is something that is decided in your own head. To be ready, when it counts. Thoughts about being jinxed - whatever - means your head is already occupied, and you probably just end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that is not for me!

Q: Some things that have happened to you so far this season have been labelled as juvenile folly. How would you respond to those critics?
SV: I think there have been a number of things happening internally in the team but it’s not my style to do laundry in public. If there is a problem I try to solve it internally. I don’t mean the relationship to my team mate, but anything that is not working as it probably should, including possible defects on the car. The cars are built so close to the limit that there is always the chance of things not working as perfectly as anticipated. But I am not the type of person to point my finger at something and wash my hands of any involvement. I am also not that kind of guy to fall into the popular scheme of saying that I would have won if so and so had not happened. We are a team and we win together and lose together. If we are not winning then there must be a reason for it. But I would never put the blame on others, only to look better. I think I know what happened - if something happened. It has been a rollercoaster ride for a number of drivers - including me. I admit that I have made two mistakes - minor mistakes, which had huge impacts. Other drivers made mistakes too, but it doesn’t help me that Fernando Alonso - a two-time world champion - spiralled himself off the track in Spa or Lewis (Hamilton) in Monza when he tried to find a gap to pass Felipe (Massa) when there wasn’t one. But all these things don’t change my situation. I can live with my mistakes and I have learnt my lesson.

Q: If you look back at those 14 races, how many would you say have been ruined by errors, and how many times have you been a victim of technical issues or competitors?
SV: There was only one race where I would say that I was the reason for not scoring the most amount of points possible - Spa - and I hope that was it. One out of 14 races - I can live with that and I stand tall about what I’ve done. I wanted to pass Jenson (Button) and it was a little mistake that had a bigger impact. We have a car that doesn’t allow me to pass a McLaren or Mercedes on the straight so I have to try something with the brakes. When it happened I was clearly faster and I saw a chance and wanted to seize it. Unfortunately it didn’t work - I lost the car and regrettably took Jenson out as well. Such little mistakes happen and sometimes they have a huge impact. Other than that there have only been two races where I didn’t see the chequered flag. One was in Australia, where we had a failure on the left-front tyre, and the other was in Turkey. I have given my opinion about what happened there and I still stand by what I’ve said.

Q: There are many people who still believe you will win this championship. You must not want to disappoint them…
SV: Definitely not. But honestly the biggest impulse comes from me. In the car you are all by yourself and in that moment there is no room for outside expectations. I think once you’ve understood that the cockpit is a solitary space and it’s all in your own hands to succeed then you are the one to set your goals - and try to reach them.

Q: Last year after Singapore you won two more races - in Japan and in Abu Dhabi. Are those two events the aces up your sleeve?
SV: I think that the tracks coming next should suit our car and that includes Singapore - I really enjoy this circuit. It is one of the biggest challenges for a driver in terms of concentration. And Suzuka is a dream! It is a race track that you hardly could have done better. Korea is unknown to everybody. We have all stared at the layout - now we will have to find out how it feels. Brazil and Abu Dhabi should also work for us. We know that we can win and we know that we can finish races high up in the points. If we were able to reach our optimum at each of the remaining races and end the season as champions that of course would be fantastic. If we don’t, then it was not because of those last five races. What others do is not in our hands but I think we have a very good chance.

Q: At the moment five drivers are still eligible for the title. Under a medal system your chances for the title would be rather slim. How do you see that from your perspective?
SV: Well, every system has pros and cons. In the end I think that the points system has grown historically and that is why I think that it is very reasonable. Yes, it is important to win races but it is also important to show consistency over a long season. I think to end a race let’s say in third or fifth position - with a car that is not competitive on that particular track - should also be honoured as a good achievement. A medal system would thwart your efforts.

Q: Flavio Briatore recently said that he thinks you are a bit too thoughtful and he’d recommend that you should listen to your gut feelings more…
SV: Well, Flavio is still very closely connected to Mark - and Mark is my immediate competitor, so I think it is clear that he is bolstering him. But I have always had a good relationship with him. He has always treated me with respect from the very beginning, even at a time when I didn’t finish races so near the front. But in the end there are always legions of people who think they can judge situations better. We saw them coming forward after Spa trying to give driving lessons. But the fact is I am in the car - and that is good the way it is.

Q: Who is your fiercest competitor for the title?
SV: All four. If you look at the points you would name Lewis and Mark, so it is up to them to defend their advantage - and for us three to eliminate that advantage. There are still five races to go and their advantage is not more than a race win, so anything can still happen. In the case of Fernando he was theoretically out of the championship race on two occasions - and he is still here in the fight - so yes, anything can happen. Remember 2007 when Kimi (Räikkönen) looked clearly defeated and still managed to get the title?

Q: You didn’t score an eighth pole position on Saturday in Singapore, but you are on the front row. What are your expectations for the race?
SV: The car works well - it has done all weekend. Probably the middle sector of my fast lap was not optimal, but I can live with that. The biggest gamble will be the weather. The track dries very slowly and with unpredictable conditions looming this could mean we are playing lottery on a street circuit. But no matter what the conditions are, we surely have the power to race at the front!


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