The incredibly boyish looking Vettel almost cuts a childlike figure amidst the high octane F1 paddock, but the mop-haired German has already proved to be a formidable talent with a maturity beyond his years.
The surprise opportunity to make his Grand Prix debut at the 2007 United States Grand Prix in place of the indisposed Robert Kubica led to Sebastian becoming the sport's youngest-ever points scorer at 19 years and 345 days, when he took eighth place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Being the son of an enthusiastic hill climb and karting competitor, saw Sebastian behind the wheel of karts as a toddler and he made his competition debut aged just seven.
In 1997 he took his first German title and after moving up to the European series, he was crowned champion in both the Junior and Senior classes before taking the big step into cars for the 2003 season.
His talent was immediately in evidence in the Formula BMW series as he ended his debut year in second place overall, taking the top rookie honours in the process. The following year the German youngster was totally dominant in winning 18 of the 20 races and this naturally ensured his promotion to the F3 Euro Series for 2005.
Although Lewis Hamilton was the runaway champion, Vettel once again made a great impression in his rookie year, taking fifth overall and won the golden opportunity to test an F1 Williams-BMW as a reward for his Formula BMW success.
In 2006 Vettel found himself in a close fought battle for title honours with the equally talented Paul di Resta, but despite four victories, the German lost out in the title chase at the final round out of the championship in Hockenheim.
By this time however Sebastian had already made his mark at Grand Prix level following the abrupt departure of Jacques Villeneuve from the BMW Sauber squad halfway through the 2006 season. His first appearances as the third driver in Friday test sessions in Turkey and Italy saw him top the timing sheets, and immediately cement his place as a key member of the BMW F1 squad for the following year.
Vettel began 2007 by combining his test role with the BMW Sauber F1 team with a campaign in the World Series by Renault. He was leading the way for Carlin after round 7 too - 74 points to the 51 of his nearest rival, Alvaro Parente - until his F1 chance came and he switched focuses. Despite that though he was still classified fifth in the end of season WsBR standings.
Post-Indianapolis and having finished eighth on his F1 debut, he was courted by Toro Rosso team boss, Gerhard Berger and with the support of his long-time backers Red Bull, he was drafted in to replace Scott Speed at STR for the final seven races of the 2007 F1 season.
After shining at Indianapolis, Vettel again made his mark with STR. Indeed, despite throwing away a probable third place finish in the rain-hit Japanese GP, after running into the back of Mark Webber, he made amends at the very next event in China, bringing his car home in fourth place and taking the team's best result to date.
Despite having attracted the attention of bigger teams further up the grid, Vettel continued with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008, where he linked up with Champ Car star Sebastian Bourdais. Anyone expecting the Frenchman to out-perform his younger team-mate, however, was in for a rude shock.
With Toro Rosso benefitting from its link to Red Bull Technologies and running a Ferrari-powered version of the latest Adrian Newey design, Vettel proved to be one of the revelations of the season – albeit one that took a while to get started.
Saddled with the year old machine until Monaco, ‘Team Seb’ posted six retirements in its first eight combined starts but, while Bourdais enjoyed the older car more than his young team-mate, the arrival of the STR3 produced a dramatic about-turn as Vettel embarked on a solid points-scoring run, starting in the Principality and seeing him climb steadily up the standings.
The highlight, however, came on the team’s home soil, at Monza, where the former Minardi operation enjoyed its day in the sun – or, in this case, the pouring rain. Running light in wet qualifying as part of its strategy to combat the race day forecast, Vettel claimed pole, and then ran away with the race as he revelled in the sodden conditions.
Still on a high, and with a Red Bull Racing contract already in his pocket, the young German wrapped up the season with three scoring finishes to end the campaign eighth overall, with 35 points, as Toro Rosso upset Red Bull’s ‘works’ squad.
At that point, the move to Renault-powered Red Bull Racing for 2009 looked to be a backward step, but Newey’s typically svelte RB5 appeared to be at the head of the class in pre-season testing, boding well for Vettel to continue his rapid rise to F1 prominence.
The German was made to wait for his moment, however, as Jenson Button and Brawn GP proved faster out of the blocks, winning six of the first seven races, while Vettel crashed chasing second in Australia and managed only 15th in Malaysia. The one race that Button didn't win in that spell, however, went his way, as a consumate wet-weather performance gave Red Bull Racing not only its first win, but also headed a 1-2 finish.
A second win went begging with a first lap error in Turkey, allowing Button to stretch his advantage, but Vettel and RBR were back on form in Britain, where he won as he pleased, and Germany, where he backed up team-mate Mark Webber in another 1-2. A tilt at the title needed more of the same, however, and successive DNFs in the next two rounds ultimately left him with too much to do, despite the RB5 having the measure of Button's Brawn over the run-in.
Two wins in the final three races hinted at what could have been, as Vettel claimed the runners-up spot, eleven points adrift of Button, and also pointed to further success in 2010, where he would form one of the few unchanged line-ups on the grid.
The RB6 may have been little more than an evolution of its predecessor, but had already set promising times in testing when Vettel claimed pole for the season-opening Bahrain GP. An exhaust problem denied him victory, and the race proved to be a pointer for much of the campaign, with the young German very fast in qualifying, but not always able to convert that into victories. Ironically, his first win of the year came from second on the grid in Malaysia, and it wasn't until Valencia that he topped the podium again.
A collision with Button in Belgium appeared to have damaged both drivers' title chances, but Vettel appeared to benefit from the release of pressure, producing a comeback fourth next time out in Italy and then winning three of the five 'flyaways' that closed the year. It should have been four from five, only for engine failure to account for a dominant Korean performance, but Vettel's late show - combined with problems for team-mate Webber and points leader Fernando Alonso - ensured that he did enough to become the sport's youngest world champion in Abu Dhabi.
Heading into 2011 with the #1 on his car only served to spur Vettel to greater heights, helping to erase the more unsavoury aspects of his first title year, where he fell out with Webber and sparked claims of favouritism within the Red Bull camp.
With the RB7 a potent evolution of its predecessor, it was up to the opposition to close the gap and it failed to do so, as Vettel started as he meant to go on with pole and victory in Australia. A further ten race wins and 14 poles were added to the tally before the year ended in Brazil, with Vettel clinching the title in Japan, fully five rounds early. The RB7 proved to be, statistically, the most successful car since the 1992 Williams, but Vettel showed his growing maturity by adapting to its demands, and those of the new Pirelli tyres, quicker than team-mate Webber, who was restricted to just one win and three poles.
The same pairing formed RBR's line-up for a fourth straight year in 2012 when, despite the various rule changes, the Milton Keynes team started as favourite to 'three-peat' as double F1 champions. The German, however, was made to work hard for his own hat-trick, as losing the blown diffuser technology that helped make it nigh on invincible in 2011, Red Bull was just one of several frontrunners in 2012.
Vettel didn’t stand on the top step of the podium until round four in Bahrain. Robbed of victory number two in Valencia due to alternator failure, he then had to wait until the season-ending ‘flyaways’ to return to winning ways, but a four-race sweep from Singapore to India put him in control of the title fight. Alternator problems forced Vettel's only DNFs of the season, with a second failure costing a podium at Monza, while a clash with Narain Karthikeyan in Malaysia caused him to miss out on points in round two, but the German again disproved the ‘can’t overtake’ myth about him by coming from the back in both Abu Dhabi and Brazil to secure the results he needed for title number three.
The youngest to achieve a championship hat-trick, Vettel finds himself in illustrious company by winning three straight, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in a club of three.
His success also played a major part in helping RBR achieve
its hat-trick of driver and constructor titles, and he again formed half of an
unchanged line-up for 2013, with Webber having inked another one-year extension
to fill the #2 machine. However, it was to be their last year together as
Vettel – chasing victory after finishing third in Melbourne – disobeyed team
orders to pass Webber and win in Malaysia.
The fallout was huge, and Vettel’s reputation was damaged.
Webber announced his intention to retire mid-season, but as the year went on
Vettel rose to the fore again and then went on an incredible run of nine
straight victories from Spa until the end of the season, wrapping up his fourth
title in a row with ease in the process.
His dominance may be set to
end, however, as the Renualt power unit looks set to start the season off the
pace. But it still marks an opportunity for Vettel to cement his place
alongside the greats, as he’ll for once have to race in the pack in an inferior
car. He’ll be doing so with a new team-mate to deal with as well, as Daniel
Ricciardo moves up from Toro Rosso to replace Webber.
2014 was a difficult year
for the German who struggled to adapt to the new power units and seemed to have
performance issues throughout the season compared to his new team-mate. In
addition the 2014 Pirelli tyre compounds never suited the Germans driving style
and he was severely handicapped all year.
The German managed just four
podium finishes all season in Malaysia, Canada, Singapore and Japan respectively
and became the first defending champion to fail to win a race in the following
season since Jacques Villeneuve in 1998. He finished fifth overall in the
championship standings and was completely outperformed by his new teammate
In November 2014, it was
confirmed Vettel would be ending his partnership with the Red Bull team to join
Ferrari on a three-year deal.
With a fresh start ahead for
2015 the paddock will be watching the four-time champion intensely to see if he
can stimulate the Ferrari back to winning ways after their recent struggles.
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