Sebastian Vettel ‘changed completely when he became a dad’

Thomas Maher
Sebastian Vettel looking pensive in a press conference. Mexico October 2022

Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel looking pensive in a press conference. Mexico October 2022

Sky F1 broadcaster Natalie Pinkham believes Sebastian Vettel evolved from his days as a ruthless Champion once he became a father.

Sebastian Vettel is now a ‘former Formula 1 driver’, having competed in his final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi last month after announcing his retirement from the sport during the summer.

The four-time World Champion has been one of the most successful drivers in the sport since the turn of the millennium, making his debut with BMW-Sauber back in 2007 before winning his first race with Toro Rosso in 2008 and joining Red Bull in 2009.

A championship challenge in ’09 fell ultimately short of title success, but Vettel won out in 2010 after a tense battle with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

Vettel would prove unstoppable for the following three seasons, going without contest in 2011 and 2013 as he unleashed a string of a record nine consecutive Grand Prix victories in late 2013.

Vettel was regarded as a completely ruthless winner, flying in the face of team orders and harmony in order to secure success for himself, and carried himself with a similar confidence with the world’s media.

But Vettel softened considerably in the final years of his career, with the German driver becoming an active voice for social injustices and environmental issues that he felt needed highlighting. His maturity shone through as Vettel became one of the most popular personalities within the sport, highlighted by most of the paddock turning out to join Vettel on a farewell track run during his final Grand Prix weekend.

Natalie Pinkham believes transformation began with fatherhood

With the Vettel of 2022 being a very different person to the Vettel of 2012, Sky F1 broadcaster Natalie Pinkham pinpointed Vettel becoming a father as a catalyst for his change as she spoke with Damon Hill and Tom Clarkson on the F1 Nation podcast.

“I don’t know about you, Damon, but I’ve seen over the last 12 years being in the sport a real change in him,” Pinkham opined of the German driver, who became a father for the first time in early 2014 – coinciding with the moment his on-track successes began to tail off.

“But I really pin it on him becoming a father. He changed completely when he became a dad, he started to care more about the world around him. The way he interacted with people, he wasn’t quite as ruthless as he had been in the past. It wasn’t all about winning. He was seeing the bigger picture. He’s just a genuinely lovely bloke who wants to make a difference in the world.”

Having announced his retirement back in July, with an anonymous 2022 season up to that point, Vettel’s performances suddenly became eye-catching and memorable once again during his final race weekends – the Aston Martin driver frequently featuring prominently in the top 10.

Hill weighed in on the Vettel debate, believing the mental clarity Vettel achieved by announcing his retirement allowed him to unlock his very best performances.

“It is really interesting,” he said.

“I think the psychology of any sport is fascinating but I’m particularly interested in how drivers can reignite that passion for driving. Once, if they’ve got a tiny bit of doubt, you’re doubting whether you want to be a racing driver anymore, are you enjoying it? It’s very difficult to perform well.

“Once he’d made that decision, ‘I’m not going to be a racing driver’ and suddenly he went back to driving, he’s gone back to enjoying it just for the sake of driving: ‘I’m in an F1 car, I’m going to enjoy myself’ and, suddenly, he’s delivering!”

Damon Hill: Sebastian Vettel needs ‘space and perspective’ away from F1

Hill, whose own career petered out quickly in 1999 after winning his final race in Belgium the previous year, said he believes Vettel will return to the sport in some capacity – once the German driver has put some distance between himself and the sport.

“We haven’t seen the last of him,” he said.

“He’ll be back in Formula 1 in some capacity because we’re interested in him. He has been a huge part of this sport, so he will be back to contribute in some way. But I think he probably needs a bit of space and perspective – that certainly was my experience.

“It’s blinding, this sport. You see the world from the paddock, from the grid, from your cockpit, and to be able to stand back from all of that and see Formula 1 in the context of everything that’s happening in the world… F1 will never look small, but it’s not the dominant story in the world.

“I think that’s where someone like Seb can’t help but know that there’s something else going on and that you can’t control the world. F1 cannot… it is limited in what it can do to solve all the world’s problems.

“He will be able to wake up in 2023 and make his own schedule, which is liberating but also quite scary. But he’s very young. I stopped when I was 40, he’s 35/36. So he’s still very young really.”

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