AUSTIN, Texas — Sebastian Vettel claims he’s not getting bored with racing, even after his eighth straight win this season at Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old German is dominating Formula 1 this season and has already clinched his fourth-straight World Championship. He broke Michael Schumacher’s record on Sunday for most consecutive races won, but Vettel doesn’t think about records much. It’s not why he gets into the car to drive, he told reporters after the race in Austin, Texas, but he acknowledges that it does feel special for him.
“I think it’s very difficult for all of us to realize what it actually means,” he said. “If you look back, if you look at those names who have similar records or outstanding performances in the past … we talk about ‘their time’ about certain drivers. One day, people might look back and talk about our time and what we’ve done as a team.”
That day has already come. Around the Circuit of the Americas race track Sunday, fans could be heard grumbling about how good Vettel is. He was already ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean by 8 seconds just a few laps into the race.
“It’s boring,” one fan said.
It’s hard to imagine that Formula 1 could ever be boring, but when overtaking is limited and the race leader pulls away lap after lap, the only hope for any action becomes a mechanical failure. There weren’t any on Sunday.
To listen to Vettel talk about it, though, is to hear a level of passion and focus that has been crucial to his success. When he is 8 or 10 seconds ahead of the next guy, it doesn’t mean it’s time to relax. The same is true for winning so many races in a row.
“I mean, it’s not as if I’m getting bored,” he said when a reporter asked what it’s like to essentially be racing against himself lately. “Obviously, I have quite a lot to do.”
Formula 1 telemetry data is coming in by the second, telling team engineers and drivers exactly what’s happening with their cars. Vettel knows when the second-place guy gains even one-tenth of a second on him in a lap.
“Obviously, when they do come closer it’s not the best feeling,” Vettel said. “You want the gap to increase always, you don’t want the gap to become smaller.”
The gap isn’t getting smaller for Vettel, who could have retired from the season several races ago and would still win the championship. He knows that what’s happening is momentous, but he remains shockingly humble.
“It’s natural as an athlete, you have ups and downs,” Vettel said. “Right now you could say that it’s rather up than down, but you never know what’s going to happen. Next year is unknown.”
Relaxation comes after retirement
Infinity Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber is a driver who does have some certainty in his life about next year: he won’t be racing Formula 1 anymore. Next week’s race in Sao Paulo, Brazil, will be Webber’s final race as an F1 driver. Webber finished on the podium on Sunday, in third behind Grosjean.
Webber, 37, said he’s looking forward to F1 retirement. He still enjoys the sport, but not like he used to, he said.
“That’s natural, that’s why the decision gets made (to retire) obviously,” Webber told reporters. “You realize there comes a point where it’s not what it once was — that happens to all sportsmen and women — when it’s a little bit different. We’ll leave the paddock very satisfied.”
Webber had a quick start on Sunday but could pull ahead in turn one to get past Grosjean. Webber started second on the grid, with Grosjean starting third.
“You want to be on the outside for turn one, but Romain was already there,” Webber said. “I think I made a very good start from the left-hand side, which is not the easiest from here, so we did what we could.”
Lewis Hamilton, a British driver who owns a home in Bachelor Gulch outside of Vail, got a clean break on the outside so Webber said that meant he had to be more careful with Vettel, who was the inside.
“Then you’ve got to clear people,” Webber said. “And when you’ve got to clear people, you use tires, you use everything else.”
As Webber tried to overtake, Vettel continued to pull away with the lead. Sahara Force India driver Adrian Sutil bumped tires with Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez in the opening lap, which sent Sutil into the wall and brought out a safety car for three laps.
“I had to wait for the safety car before I could unleash the pace,” Vettel said. “But certainly it’s a great feeling when you do pull away, and then it’s about pacing yourself – pacing yourself to get the range, to look after tire, etc.”
As he broke one of Schumacher’s many Formula 1 records, and has a chance to beat another one of his records next week for most wins in a single season, Vettel is reminded of why he races.
“In a way, I have the same approach as (Schumacher) and probably every sportsman: I think we are not jumping into the car to beat certain records,” Vettel said, adding that some of Schumacher’s records will probably last forever. “I spoke to him a couple weeks ago and generally I think he’s very happy with what he has achieved and seems fairly relaxed.”
And while Vettel is the one who might seem relaxed as he continues to set a pace that seemingly no other driver can touch, the work continues into next weekend and certainly into next season.
“It is a Sunday afternoon’s drive, but not in that regard,” he said.
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media (and a major Formula 1 fan). She can be reached at email@example.com or 970-777-3125.