Sebastian Vettel has had his fair share of controversies in his 16-year-long Formula 1 career, but his greatest rivals say he’s left a long-lasting positive impression on them.
During his reign at Red Bull, the German driver took four world championships between 2010 and 2013.
The last of those championship wins included an unbeaten run of nine straight wins.
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He remains the youngest Formula 1 champion at 23 years old, the youngest pole position winner, and the youngest driver to score a hat trick.
Despite his success, Vettel was a polarizing figure.
His ‘Multi 21’ feud with Australian teammate Mark Webber divided opinion and his iconic one-fingered salute infuriated the naysayers.
However, in the twilight of his career, perceptions of a so-called “arrogant” Vettel have changed.
For Max Verstappen, it was Vettel’s response to the Dutch driver’s enormous crash while battling Lewis Hamilton at last year’s British Grand Prix that stuck in his mind.
“He’s had a career which a lot of people could only dream of. But at the end of the day, that’s not everything. I think, as a person, he’s always been very caring,” said Verstappen.
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“Of course, I had my heated battles with him, especially in the beginning of my career – but for me, one thing I will always remember for the rest of my life, last year, in Silverstone, I came back from the hospital to get to my motorhome to get all my stuff and he was there, waiting for me when I got out of the car.
“He said, ‘Are you okay, Max? How are you doing? Are you okay?’, and that just shows how he is, you know, a super nice, caring person who is not only there for performance, but also means well, you know. I think that’s also really nice to be remembered like that.
“He will definitely be missed. But on the other hand, I also really wish him well for the future, whatever he wants to do, to be honest, but I think what is most important is to spend time with family. You know, he’s a real family man. And that’s great to see and a great example.”
After his time at Red Bull, Vettel went on to join Ferrari in a bid to do what his hero Michael Schumacher had done before him.
The ultimate goal of winning a Formula 1 world championship in red unfortunately never came to fruition.
In the midst of his tenure at the Scuderia, a young Charles Leclerc – still in the FIA Formula 2 Championship – worked with Ferrari as one of its simulator drivers.
The Monegasque junior said he expected Vettel to care very little about his role in the team, but was surprised when he received a letter out of the blue.
“He has been incredible. He’s achieved so much in the sport, and there is nothing much more to say on that side,” said Leclerc.
“As a person, he’s been incredible. I remember, already in Formula 2, I was doing the simulator work, which, okay, it’s not easy work to do, because it’s really, really tiring and I thought that Seb probably didn’t even know I was on the simulator.
“I received a letter one day, just thanking me for all the hard work. And that meant a lot for me at that time. But that was only a small thing. Then obviously we became teammates in 2019 and 2020 also, where he has taught me really a lot.
“We’ve had our tense moments on track, but the respect off the track has never changed and he’s always been there for me whenever I had difficult times. And that was very different to what I was used to with my previous teammates.
“Obviously, in Formula 1 it’s normal, there’s inner competition inside the team but he has always been super caring and trying to help me whenever I was going through more difficult times.”
Perhaps his greatest rival, Lewis Hamilton, recounted an incident on the streets of Baku in 2017 that left the pair flustered.
At the time, neither driver was willing to concede fault. Ironically, it brought them closer together off the track.
“When I think of Seb … he was a bit of a nuisance back then,” the seven-time champion joked.
Vettel replied: “I’m actually quite sorry … it’s your answer, but I think Baku wasn’t a great moment, because what I did wasn’t right. But actually from that moment onwards”, Hamilton interjected, “Our friendship got better!”
Notwithstanding a shock win at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Vettel will end his career with four championships, 53 race wins, 122 podium finishes, and 57 pole positions.
What is to come remains unclear. Hamilton joked that Vettel would one day find his way back to Formula 1.
Vettel said he’ll most likely continue racing elsewhere. Exactly where remains to be seen.
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