Christian Horner has praised world champion Sebastian Vettel's down-to-earth nature, claiming that it is helping to make the German the best driver in the world.
Reflecting on Vettel's successive championship success, Horner admitted that there were still areas in which the 24-year old infuriated the team but, on the whole, had little but compliments for the way in which he approached the sport. Vettel has long been one of the more amenable drivers when it came to dealing with the press and other team responsibilities, but Horner reveals that there is more to him than that.
“It helps that he is a very nice young man," the team principal told Motorsport
magazine, "He's a wise head on young shoulders, but he has a sense of fun, and he's humble. He just sees himself as one of the team. He doesn't have a manager, he's a shrewd guy who does his own deals."
Perhaps with a nod in Lewis Hamilton's direction, Horner also confirmed that Vettel and his girlfriend live in Switzerland, but she didn't come to the races as the German was determined to protect her - and their relationship - from the media. It is as a driver, however, that the team boss has the biggest respect for his young charge, and that shows as he explains how Vettel is able to deal with most of what is thrown at him during the season.
“Seb's been part of the Red Bull family since he was a twelve-year-old karter. His car control is phenomenal, so he has no inhibitions about the car being 'on the nose', being loose at the entry or exit of a corner, which might unnerve other drivers. His ability to carry that off has been accentuated by the Pirelli tyre. It's all down to the set-up: Mark [Webber] drives the car in a classic style, whereas Sebastian may be happy to wind on more front wing to chase front-end performance and just deal with a looser rear."
Although he eventually won his first title last season, Horner believes that the year played a big part in shaping Vettel as a driver and a person - and helped make him the unstoppable force he has become in 2011.
“In 2010, he had a tough year," Horner confirmed, "He was publicly criticised for some of his actions, and unreliability cost him three wins, but he never gave up, and it all came right for him in Abu Dhabi.
"Once the championship was on his CV, that pressure was gone, replaced with a new confidence, and he's stepped up a level this year. Based on 2011, you have to say Sebastian is currently the best driver in the world. He works harder on his own performance than any other driver in the pit-lane. He'll be in the paddock later than anyone on Friday and Saturday night, even if he has pole, trawling through his data and Mark's, soaking up information like a sponge. He has the speed, the racecraft, the intelligence and the technical sympathy to understand what the car is doing and what it requires. He can create strategic options and opportunities by the way he drives the car."
Despite all that, however, Horner admits that he still gets frustrated with the double world champion, particularly because 'he's got a thing about statistics, [and] likes to tot up the wins, the poles, the fastest laps, the percentages'.
“I'm always giving him grief about fastest laps," the Briton revealed, "He'll be leading comfortably into the last lap, nothing to be gained by taking any risks, and on the timing screens the first sector goes purple. [Race engineer] Rocky's telling him to take it easy, stroke it home. Second sector goes purple. As, he takes the flag, the third sector goes purple. So he's got fastest lap.
"He's doing all his celebrating on the slowing-down lap, and he comes on the radio: 'Did I get fastest lap?'. Rocky says 'no, you missed it by a tenth'. 'I can't believe that,' he says, 'that can't be right.' So then Rocky says 'Yes, you did get fastest lap - and you're a bloody idiot!'”