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Team Vettel: The architects of genius

4 November 2011

Sebastien Vettel has just been crowned F1's youngest ever double world champion, and such has been his domination this year, he has made one of sport's toughest challenges look easy. But even a champion so talented has to learn and be nurtured. The Red Bulletin spoke to the architects of genius...



Helmut 'The Masterplanner' Marko
Red Bull motorsport adviser

It was at the Hockenheim circuit in 2004 that I nailed Sebastian down with a contract. Before that he was already with Red Bull, but not in a proper contract structure.

We put him into Mücke Motorsport and from then on we guided his career. In his first year in Formula BMW he won 18 out of 20 races. Then we took him into F3, also with Mücke. He had a difficult first half-season but the second half was good after quite heavy changes in the team at Sebastian's demand. This showed a lot about his attitude.

At that time we didn't have our own F1 team, but we knew that we wanted to take Sebastian in that direction. There was an approach from BMW who were already in F1 as an engine supplier and were forming their own team for 2006. To get Sebastian into F1, we let him go to BMW, but contractually we had the right to get him back.

This was important when we bought the old Minardi team to create Scuderia Toro Rosso. When a seat became available there we transferred him, after a single start for BMW.

He always knew that driving is only part of motor racing and that if you do not have the right knowledge, and the right support of other people, then you will not be a regular winner.

Sometimes I've had to slow him down a little bit because he wanted to do too much too soon. But it has always been a very good working relationship. Through his success we have helped Sebastian mature, also. He's not over-ambitious now, which he was in 2009. And his mental strength is unbelievable.


Guillaume 'The Caddy' Rocquelin
Red Bull Racing race engineer

My role for Seb centres on car preparation and running the car at weekends. At the track I'm the team's 'face' for him. Anything he needs to know about, anything technical with the car, anything that needs organising – at the track or maybe in the factory, such as time on the simulator, he will ask me.

During a race weekend, essentially I run the car, and make sure it's set up to his liking. This covers many aspects, such as tyre selection and management, fuel, when we come into the pits and discussing all the data that the car generates. There's also the human dimension. I help him with coaching, motivation and how to deal with the inevitable ups and downs.

In a very crude manner it's about how not to make things a problem. For example when bad things happen, like in Korea last year when Seb's engine blew up while he was leading in the final stages, that situation is all about holding your head up. And we'd rehearsed exactly that kind of situation, which helped him deal with it so well. I think our age gap helps there. I'm 41, he's 24 and we're able to work very well together.

I always try to be calm for Seb, this is very important. I think to be a good race engineer you have to be as confident and as even-tempered as you can. If the highs are too high and the lows are too low, then it can become difficult.

“There's only so much you can control,” is a phrase that's important to us, but generally an understanding of that – having an ability to rationalise things – only comes with age. Seb has that at a very young age.

It helps that we talk a lot. What you see at a race track is generally the putting into place of everything we've discussed by phone and email since the last race.


Christian 'The Boss Horner
Red Bull Racing team principal

The real thing I suppose I do and that we as a team do, is ensure that we get the best out of Sebastian both as a sportsman and as an athlete. That means ensuring that he has the materials and equipment to do the job.

The time demands on drivers are significant, between track, factory, commercial and media pressures, so ensuring that his time is managed and organised in a way that allows him to perform at his prime and at his best is obviously very important.

With all the demands that are placed on F1 drivers, it's important to ensure that they have the right preparation and the right people around them, and what happens trackside is a relatively small part of the operation.

It's extremely important that the dynamics of people working together are right, and that they have complete confidence, trust and faith in each other. It's broader than just personnel management. You have to look strategically and think about how you approach a season. You know there will be challenges. That's what makes the sport interesting. And you have to work with your drivers, and the whole team, to get through these challenges.

Although I used to race, I'm not qualified to criticise Sebastian's driving. But if I see something that I think might be of interest, then obviously I'll talk to him. We also often talk about different strategies and race plans. The drivers don't have as much information available to them as team management does, so sometimes your job can be a matter of managing expectations. At Silverstone this year, our drivers were battling and setting fastest laps. But fastest laps don't score championship points.

Sebastian doesn't have a manager in the 'sports agent' sense and that allows us to have a great one-to-one relationship. If there's an issue, we talk about it. It's great because we have total trust in each other. That's very important for him and very important for me, and it makes any issue relatively easy to deal with.


Giorgio 'The Educator' Ascanelli
Technical Director, Scuderia Toro Rosso

Nobody made Vettel. I certainly did not make him! He made himself. But at the 2008 European GP, in Valencia, something significant happened. Sebastian was driving for us that year, of course, and it was a funny weekend. There were a few new things on the car and the circuit was new for everybody.

I believed it was fundamental that Sebastian learned the circuit, more than anything else. In morning practice, he was the fastest driver, for the first time. Then in the afternoon I noticed a lap which was extraordinary: with worn tyres and a heavy fuel load, he was still extremely fast.

When we spoke about the lap and looked at the data he wasn't quite sure how he had done this, so I told him to go away and think about it.

Then the next day, Saturday, he came in and we chatted and he told me “I know what I did.” But I didn't ask him exactly what that was. That's for him to know. It's his secret of being fast, if you like. I just wanted him to think about the process of his driving and register it, mentally.

Something else that we gave him as a team, was that we gave him our complete trust when he came to us and that enabled him to trust us, too.

His first race for us was at the Hungarian GP, and that's not an easy track. He made a mistake in qualifying and immediately said, “I made a mistake.” Normally the racing driver's book of excuses is longer than War and Peace, so this was refreshing.

In general I don't find it hard to be unpleasant, but it was hard to be unpleasant to Sebastian. And he was always thinking, which allowed for a discussion about performance and not an argument.


Dr Mario 'Team Boss' Theissen
Head of BMW Motorsport

When Sebastian was with us as a Formula One test driver in 2006, it was clear he needed time to develop. He had been with us in 2003 and 2004, racing in Formula BMW, where he already showed outstanding talent. He won 18 out of 20 races in his second season and, in total, he was on the podium 32 times, won 23 races and took 20 pole positions. In 2004 he won 14 races in a row. All that remains unequalled to this day.

But as well as a racing car we also gave him a broad-based training programme that went well beyond working together with the engineers, to include aspects such as technology, nutrition, fitness and media work. His ability to put these tools to use can be seen every day now in Formula One.

He made his debut as a Friday test driver with us at the age of 19, becoming the youngest ever F1 driver. In his first race at Indianapolis in 2007, still aged just 19, he scored a point and not much more than a year later, he won his first grand prix. It was amazing what he achieved in such a short time and it made me very happy for my partners at BMW and Scuderia Toro Rosso, Gerhard Berger and Franz Tost.


Riccardo 'Guiding Hand' Adami
Scuderia Toro Rosso Race engineer

We had a nice time together through 2008. When Sebastian arrived he was already quite experienced and we were able to build up a strong relationship starting from the technical side.

We had a new car that year in Monaco and we started getting better results from then on – sometimes he was leading and sometimes I would lead.

There was some coaching I had to do as he was still very young. I taught him some of the basics – how the car behaves and how the tyres behave to changes in the car 'set-up'. I showed him how we could develop a car and make it match his driving style.

With such a young driver that meant going through a learning curve process to give him the best opportunity to see what the car could do and what he was able to do with it. This allowed him to see the limit of the car and the limit of the track.

We could see from the beginning that we had someone special, particularly with his level of braking, and he had a very high level of sensitivity to the feel of the car, especially when conditions were changing. He was able to achieve 90 per cent of the car's capability faster than other drivers.

I think he learned quite a lot from his year with us: he started from the basics and by the end of the season he was able to tell us what he needed from the car. This is something I'm proud of because we gave him the possibility to understand what the car can do and put this into practice. The best example, of course, was his win from pole position at the 2008 Italian GP. What a great experience.

He gave us our best results and we're still friends. He drove my wedding car when I got married.


Gerd 'Talent Spotter' Noack
Owner of the Michael Schumacher karting centre, Kerpen, Germany


I can't precisely say what it was that I saw in Sebastian Vettel when he came to our go-kart track for the first time. He caught my attention because he was such a lovely toddler who was very good at what he was doing. Something about him reminded me of my first driver, whose name is Michael Schumacher…

The Vettel family wasn't awash in money – quite the contrary – and I felt I had to try to prevent his career stalling by running out of money, so I helped find him sponsors. In 1997 – back then Sebastian was only 10 years old – I let out my kart business to fully support Sebastian's career. After winning the juniors' European kart championship twice, I bought him a Formula BMW. In our first season we just failed to win the championship and it wasn't even Sebastian's fault. In the final race he was punished for a rival's jump start!

When Sebastian entered Formula 3 I realised it was time for me to step back. As soon as he got involved in bigger teams I wasn't able to actively contribute any more, so I went back to karts. With Mario Theissen of BMW and Red Bull's Helmut Marko taking care of him, I knew Sebastian was in good hands.

When Sebastian took his first F1 title it was the greatest gift to me I can think of because it's the perfect acknowledgement that I wasn't wrong about that toddler on my go-kart track.

So what was my role in Sebastian's career? Well not a father figure, because his father, Norbert, was always with him. And I never wanted to be his manager, because that sounds like a lot of pressure to make money – and I never made any money supporting Sebastian. Let's just say I was his mentor.


Ann 'Media Guru' Bradshaw
Formula BMW and BMW F1

Sebastian seemed to be almost ready packaged when I first met him. You get used to drivers coming to you having done media training, but he was just a natural. He seemed to enjoy media time and to want to do well at it. So I didn't really have to teach him very much.

He was confident, not in a cocky way, that he would be able to do PR and that he would be able to give a journalist the best interview he could. He was always quite happy just to say 'here I am', without trying to be something that he wasn't. And he was always keen to know who he was speaking to and to understand what they wanted. He was quite informal about it as well. He would often chat to me over lunch about what he should be doing and if there were better ways to do media. I've never worked with a Formula One driver like him.


Trevor 'The First Brit' Carlin
Owner of Carlin Motorsport

We were part of Seb's early story with Red Bull. I'd seen Seb race in Formula BMW when he dominated and then he was thrown in at the deep end with us, in 2006, at a World Series by Renault race in Misano.

I remember that he qualified reasonably well and finished third. He'd finished third at the Macau Grand Prix Formula 3 race the year before and I was wondering whether he'd always be third. Then it turned out the two guys ahead of him were penalised and disqualified, so he actually won on his debut. Suddenly I started thinking of him as 'golden bollocks'.

Since then the results really speak for themselves. He knows what he wants and what he needs to extract the maximum from the car, and when all that's in place, he's pretty hard to beat.

He's very easy to talk to and he likes having a conversation. He'd probably make a very good race engineer if he wasn't such a bloody good driver. His pace, when he can unlock the whole thing, is incredible. And he delivers, so he's rewarding to work with and teams thrive on that. They're happy to work all-nighters if they know that they'll get a result.

Did we mentor him? He's not the sort of person who needs mentoring. He's at ease with himself, which makes people at ease with him and creates a very nice working atmosphere. I think that happy manner people see is because he has a capacity to relax once he knows he has everything else under control. He's still the same kid who used to drive for us.

What we did give him were the tools to do the job at one stage in his career, and as we were the first English team he had worked for, we gave him the 'banter' – and that's essential to survive British race mechanics! That should have prepared him well for working with a lot of the guys at Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes. I think we probably taught him how to swear in English.

by Anthony Rowlinson & Werner Jessner



Article courtesy of the Red Bulletin. You can check out the November issue of the Red Bulletin in full at: www.redbulletin.com


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