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GP Week : Issue 15
F IVE years ago Sebastian Vettel was making his bow in international single-seaters. A serious talent in karts, he made his debut in German Formula BMW at the age of 15. He won five races, took 12 podiums, scored 216 points, and finished second in the championship. Twelve months later he went one better and secured the title with a staggering 18 wins, 20 podiums, 14 pole positions and 13 fastest laps. By 2005, and his 17th birthday, he was testing for the Williams F1 team and finished top rookie in the Euro F3 Series, taking sixth position overall. The next year there was the F3 EuroSeries (2nd in the championship), a World Series by Renault part season (two wins) and extensive testing for BMW Sauber in F1. Then came the breakthrough. A World Series campaign in 2007 gave way to a one-off race for BMW in place of the recovering Robert Kubica after his Canada smash. His performance netted him points and a call up to replace Scott Speed for the remainder of the season at Toro Rosso. In other words, it’s been a hell of a climb to the top. “It’s a bit odd when you tell me it’s only five years ago, so yeah five years ago I did Formula BMW. I was 15 at that time and now I’m 20 so that makes sense,” he laughs, plotting his career through in his mind. There’s an innocence and yet a worldly maturity about Sebastian. For a kid who has spent his whole life racing cars, he’s incredibly grounded. Take his first impressions of driving an F1 car … “I would say to drive the car is much better than I was thinking it to be. It’s unbelievable. You know, many times you ask how is it to drive a Formula 1 car, explain the feeling and so on. But I think you cannot explain it. It’s like if you want to explain to a virgin what it’s like to have sex, you know, how is it to have an orgasm? It’s something similar to driving an F1 car, because it’s just so much more better than you imagined it to be.” Cheeky. And honest. A nice combination, and nothing less than you’d expect from a guy about to turn 21. But there’s something you have to wonder about this young crop of F1 drivers. Is the rush to bring them through into F1 denying them their childhood? Sebastian certainly doesn’t think so. “I think I am as everybody else. People often say ‘yeah but you miss so much of your childhood and your youth,’ but that’s not right. When I was away to do kart races or single-seater races from school, I did it because I wanted to do it, because I enjoyed it. There was never the question of do I go to Jimmy’s birthday party on Saturday or do I go to the F3 race in Pau? So for me it was always clear what I wanted and therefore I haven’t missed anything.” On the flip side then, Vettel is perhaps the living embodiment that pursuing one’s career from such an early age matures the minds of the new generation of driver. “I think one thing is really true. This business makes you grow faster, especially your mind. There’s also a lot of business involved very early. Stepping out of go karts you need a lot of financial background to manage your budget to do the racing. So there’s a lot of things going through your head. Obviously I was never in a position where I never had to calculate because I had big partners alongside me, but generally I was always taking part and always wanted to know what was happening and what we had to do, and people often say it was all easy … but it always looks nice from the outside. There was a lot of work on the inside and the fact that I am now here sitting with you makes me proud because I have reached this level together with my family.” He’s grown up fast, but there remains a child within the 34