'Proud' Norbert Vettel reflects on son's shining career

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Aston Martin F1 Team walks the circuit with his father Norbert Vettel (GER 09.09.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy
© XPB 

Ever since Sebastian Vettel launched himself into Formula 1 in 2007, there's been one devoted super fan who has never been far from the F1 paddock - his proud father Norbert.

Originally it had been young Sebastian watching from the sidelines while Norbert competed in hill-climb events. But it wasn't long before the roles were reversed and Seb was at the wheel for his first karting experience at the age of eight.

“He was small so I added some material to the pedals so he could reach the throttle and the brake,” the normally reserved Norbert recalled in conversation with Formula1.com correspondent Lawrence Barretto. "We had to pad the seat out, too.

"We marked out a track with a hairpin near where I worked. I stood at the side of the track, before the hairpin, to mark out where Sebastian needed to brake. That was the first thing he learned: braking points.

“I asked him to come inside for lunch and to let his sister drive the kart while he was eating, but he said, ‘No, I’ll stay here.’ He wouldn’t get out. He just wanted to keep trying, keep learning. He was fascinated.

“Sebastian loved to drive in the wet,” Norbert continued. “Seb was every time good in the rain. He had such a good feel for the car, for the tyres in those conditions.”

14.09.2008 Monza, Italy, Sebastian Vettel (GER), Scuderia Toro Rosso with his father Norbert - Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Sunday

Norbert was present in Indianapolis when his son made his F1 debut for BMW Sauber as a stand-in for injured regular driver Robert Kubica. Shortly after he took a full time role at Toro Rosso that put him on the path to Red Bull.

“Seeing Sebastian get into his overalls, and step into the cockpit for the first time, I felt nervous. I’m always nervous, whether it’s testing, practice, qualifying or the race."

It hasn't changed over the years, with Norbert avidly following his son's career over the course of 299 Grand Prix starts.

“If I’m not at the track, I’m following every session, either watching the TV or listening to the radio or if I can’t get either of those, I just follow the live timing, looking at every lap Sebastian does. I’m always nervous for him.

"Next year, I won’t be nervous," he added, now that Seb has hung up his helmet for the last time with his retirement from motor racing following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month.

Inevitably Norbert was proudest of his son during the four years of resounding back-to-back world championship success with Red Bull from 2010 to 2013.

Sebastian Vettel (GER), Red Bull Racing 03.11.2013. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, Race

“This was a nice time. I was just so proud of him,” Norbert agreed. “Every father, every mother, you do everything for the children, so to watch him go from karting to world champion was incredible.”

Having sat in Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari when he was 10 years old, Sebastian was proud to follow his mentor to Maranello in 2015, even though it didn't result in the same sort of success that he'd enjoyed at Red Bull.

More recently Sebastian has looked reenergised driving for Aston Martin for the last two years, before his decision to retire and seen new challenges away from F1 in future.

Norbert said that his son's new focus on speaking out on environmental and human rights issues has made him “even prouder" than the F1 success. But he doesn't yet know what his son will go on to do next.

“I don’t know what he will do next year. I don’t know what I will do either," he said. Asked if he thought Seb would miss the thrill of being in the paddock and lining up on the grid in 2023, Norbert replied: “I think yes."

"This is my feeling," he added. "Seb’s feeling, I do not know. When you’ve been on this hamster wheel for so many years - racing since he was eight - it’s hard to know how he will feel now he is off the wheel."

Whatever happens, Norbert will be happy to see his son thrive. "I say to Seb: thank you for all this nice time. Have a good time.”

Norbert Vettel (GER). 24.02.2022. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain

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