Exclusive interview with World Champion Sebastian Vettel
Success changes some people. Not so Sebastian Vettel. He is the youngest pole-sitter, the youngest GP winner and the youngest world champion of all time, yet the German prodigy has managed to keep his feet on the ground and stay an ordinary and pleasant person.
For example, when this UK Autoblog reporter arrived at the airport between races, it was none other than the reigning Formula One champion who heaved my suitcase off the baggage carousel. The mere idea would not have occurred to some people we could mention...
Sebastian, you said it was your intention not to let the championship title change you in any way. Have you succeeded in this regard?
I think I have, so far... Sure, you want to carry on developing, which means that you're going to change as a person in various ways, but on the inside, you should remain the same. I think that I've managed quite well up to now.
What makes this process particularly difficult – and what helps?
This may sound like a sweeping generalisation, but if you know what matters in life, what are the really important things in life, it's not too difficult. The priority is not to take everything too seriously, the things that people say and write. That should always be the guiding principle. You're never as good as people write and say, but you're never as bad either. As long as you bear this in mind, you can survive quite well.
You yourself may not have changed, but what about the way other people treat you?
Perhaps that has changed, but not to the extent that it has impacted on my personal world. Above all, because my inner circle of friends and family has stayed the same.
Has winning the title made you more self-assured and given you greater confidence – for example, the way you handle yourself in the team?
It's not that I was previously some sort of shrinking violet. I think it's important that you feel able to express your opinion within the team without fearing the consequences. I've always been in this situation, though perhaps now even more so. However, I don't have a strong impression that people are treating me any differently. I feel really comfortable in the team, and everyone there knows that I'm a person you can have fun with. But if something serious is on the agenda, then we equally know when the laughter has to stop.
As world champion, do you feel you have a particular responsibility to your team, to the sport and to the fans?
Not really. I don't think we should get uptight or take ourselves too seriously. The bottom line is that we must never lose sight of the fun aspect. There are so many serious things in life. You have to make sure that you can keep your childlike sense of wonder and not suppress the fun factor.
What's the most fun?
Still, the sheer pleasure of driving. But also, coming here to the track. After all, there's a lot of bonding goes on in the team. To see everyone again after a break of one or two weeks – especially for the first race of the season – is something to really look forward to. It's perhaps similar to being a member of a pop group. If you don't get on with the other people in the line-up, then it's obviously going to be difficult to share the same bus or lodgings day after day. The main thing is that you should feel comfortable with your surroundings and the people you work with.
Despite being such a laid-back, fun-loving type, you're increasingly coming across as mature and grown up. Do you sometimes feel older than your 23 years?
That's certainly down to the fact that you grow up at an accelerated rate when you travel about a lot from a young age, seeing plenty of new things and spending most of your time in adult company. This puts you on a fast track to maturity. That's why it's important not to forget the ordinary things... I'm not the sort to go home and sit down at a table, drinking wine and smoking a cigar, like a much older man who would enjoy rounding off his day in that way. For me, it's about doing the same sort of ordinary things that other people of my age do.