ABU DHABI: If there was one driver that could unite the entire 2022 F1 grid and have his peers set aside any differences they may have to come together for one night to celebrate him, it had to be Sebastian Vettel.
Emotions will run high this weekend in Abu Dhabi as the four-time world champion bids farewell to Formula One.
Proceedings have already kicked off in the most iconic way as all 20 drivers went to dinner together on Thursday evening at Emirates Palace’s Hakkasan to pay tribute to Vettel.
“We’ve come a long way as drivers and continue to grow as men. Despite whatever may happen on the track we grow and become better each day. Us all coming together to celebrate life and Seb’s amazing career in F1 is truly a night I’ll never forget,” wrote Lewis Hamilton on his Instagram in a post that featured a photo of all the drivers, and one with just him and Vettel.
In a press conference on Thursday at Yas Marina Circuit, three world champions and veterans of the sport sat side by side: Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Vettel, who wasn’t too ready to reflect on his 17-year F1 career just yet.
Between 2010 and 2013, Vettel dominated the sport, winning four consecutive championships with Red Bull.
“When I think of Seb… he was a bit of a nuisance back then!” joked Hamilton on Thursday.
“I’m actually quite sorry,” Vettel cut in. “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…”
“Our friendship got better!” said Hamilton, completing the German’s sentence.
On the track, Vettel is as fierce as they come, but over the years, he somehow managed to combine his sheer competitiveness with a kind and open personality that earned him the respect of his peers.
Daniel Ricciardo revealed earlier this month that Vettel, his former teammate at Red Bull, frequently picked up the phone to check on him when news broke in August of McLaren terminating the Australian’s contract early.
“As a person, I can speak so highly of him. On a personal level, some things that he’s done for me, I’m just very, very appreciative of,” said Ricciardo on Thursday.
“I think he’s a very caring individual. He cares about the sport as a whole but also cares about us drivers. We’re all competitors for sure but he’s definitely able to separate that and just look out for us ultimately.
“As a competitor, I think back to 2013 when he won every race in the second half of the season, it was like a relentless approach, like he just wasn’t satisfied, like he ultimately just wanted to destroy the competition.
“You could just see the raw competitor in him and that drive to, not win, but to destroy if you will; you had to admire and respect that.”
Almost every younger driver on the grid has a personal anecdote that involves an act of kindness from Vettel.
2021 and 2022 world champion Max Verstappen, another former teammate of Vettel, is excited about swapping helmets with the 35-year-old this weekend, and shared a story from after his crash at Silverstone last season on Thursday.
“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,” said Verstappen.
“I think as a person he’s always been very caring. Of course I had many 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 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 and he was like, ‘Max, how are you doing? Are you okay?’ and that just shows how he is, a super nice, caring person, who’s not only there for performance, but means well. I think that’s also really nice to be remembered like that.”
Charles Leclerc recalls the time he received a special thank you note from Vettel for all the work he was doing on the simulator at Ferrari’s headquarters.
“He’s been incredible. I remember already in F2, 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 and 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,” said Leclerc.
“We became team-mates in 2019 and 2020, where he has taught me a lot of things. We’ve had our tense moments on track but the respect off the track has never changed.
“He’s always been there for me whenever I’ve had difficult times. That was very different to what I was used to with my previous teammates. Obviously in Formula One it’s normal there is inner competition inside the team but he’s always been super caring and trying to help me whenever I was going through more difficult times. He will definitely be missed.”
Pierre Gasly, who drives for Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri but is moving to Alpine next season, is expecting an emotional weekend in the UAE capital and also sang Vettel’s praises.
“I think he’s been a great player and a great icon and figure for all of us F1 drivers. Personally for me he’s been a great help before I made it to Formula One when I was a reserve driver for Red Bull, I managed to get close to him and ask for some direction and some advice at the time. Definitely he’s going to be massively missed in the paddock,” said the 26-year-old Frenchman.
Alonso, who will take Vettel’s seat at Aston Martin next season, will be wearing a special helmet in Abu Dhabi that features a German flag stripe and the words, ‘Danke Seb’ on either side in honor of Vettel.
“It’s going to be strange to not have him next year in the first race,” said the 41-year-old Spaniard.
“We shared so many things over the last 15 years. Sometimes we fought for championships, sometimes for seventh place, even in Japan until finish line and we still always enjoyed every single battle and respect each other as much as we could.
“I think my career is going to be linked to Sebastian in a way, because we fought for many great things in the best seasons of our life probably. Even though it was on his side the outcome always, I think our names will be linked to other.”