Sebastian Vettel ignites comeback speculation and admits ‘it hurts’ being trackside

Thomas Maher
Four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel watches on at the action during FP2 at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel watches on at the action during FP2 at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel has given his strongest indication yet that he is eager to return to an F1 cockpit, as he admitted ‘it hurts’ being a spectator.

Vettel is not even a year out of F1, having taken the decision to retire from the sport in mid-2022 as he cited a desire to spend more time with his young family, as well as use his position to shine a spotlight on social and economic issues that concern him.

The German driver is in Japan this weekend, where he was on hand to help launch a large assortment of beehives in an ecological initiative being taken on by Suzuka in collaboration with F1 and the FIA.

Sebastian Vettel: It hurts to be standing here

Having taken care of the bee hotels launch on Thursday, where Vettel was enthusiastically greeted by all his former grid rivals as every driver turned out to show their support, the four-time World Champion got to stand trackside and watch on during Friday’s practice session.

Vettel, whose stance on retirement has always been ‘never say never’ about a possible comeback, admitting he still loves the sport and driving, gave perhaps the clearest indicator yet that he hasn’t fully moved on from F1 as he spoke with Timo Glock for an on-air interview with Sky Germany.

“It hurts to see these cars go past,” Vettel said.

“I knew it would be hard to be here, but here it is extremely hard. It is.. I mean it was my favorite track. I said last year my comeback would be here. Well, now I‘m standing here.”

Vettel was referring to comments he made at this race last year, in which he expressed his love for Suzuka and hinted he’d be up for a substitute drive at the Japanese Grand Prix.

“Obviously I love driving and I think around this track I always felt very alive and the passion felt or feels very very alive,” he said at the time.

“So yeah, we will see what type of car maybe in the future will come up. Maybe if one of these guys in the future races here [in the press conference at the time] feels a bit sick. I don’t know – I don’t wish them to feel so – but I wouldn’t mind jumping back in for a race at Suzuka at any time!”

Glock asked Vettel what he felt was the unique challenge that Suzuka offered.

“It was always more a pleasure than a challenge,” Vettel said.

“Of course, you need to manage tyres, but hitting the corners just right, to become one with the car, so you‘re always perfect. Especially the corners that go up the hill.. I love that.“

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From day one, it’s always seemed like Vettel is caught between two minds about racing in F1. The German driver has not washed his hands of the sport at all, but appeared to not be at ease about the fact that his stance on ecological matters is at odds with the fact Formula 1 cannot race without being associated with organisations and sponsors that could be seen as at odds with his concerns.

Watching as his former team Aston Martin have become a much more competitive entity is something that hasn’t stung, or so he claims, but watching Fernando Alonso claim plenty of podiums in the car he had just vacated must bristle a tad.

Recently, Vettel revealed to Sky F1 that he has remained race fit: “Yeah, but because I want to, not because I’m like, [going to] come back or if somebody falls out I’m going to, not because of that.

“I guess my neck is not up to speed, it can’t be, but everything else is pretty good I would say.”

In the same interview, he also couldn’t rule out the possibility of a return.

“I can’t say no,” Vettel replied. “Because you don’t know.

“I think it’s something that if you asked all of them, probably some of them would have said no and some of them I don’t know, but in the end, all of them came back. So I can’t exclude it.”

Vettel’s uncertainty is in stark contrast to the absolutely resolute stance taken by Nico Rosberg, who walked away from F1 two days after winning the title back in 2016 – Rosberg having never entertained any talk or speculation about a return to the sport. Given Vettel has only just left F1, Rosberg said there’s no reason a comeback couldn’t be entertained.

“He’s only been out for a short moment now and why not if the right opportunity arises?” Rosberg told Sky Sports News.

“Why not think about it? If he would enjoy it, then it makes sense for him to keep the door open.

“Of course, all the fans in the world would love him to come back as he’s so popular as well.”

Vettel’s former boss at Toro Rosso, AlphaTauri’s Franz Tost, reckons the German is tempted by a return, but the huge calendar of races may be causing uncertainty.

“That he misses Formula 1 is clear. It would be tragic if it wasn’t so,” Tost told Sky Germany.

“That he will come back as a driver, I dare to doubt. There are 24 events and I find it hard to imagine him doing that again. But maybe he will be reintegrated into Formula 1 in a different role. The future will tell.”

Vettel may not have a choice in sitting out 2024 if he doesn’t make himself a serious candidate, as there are precious few seats remaining on the grid. Williams are yet to confirm who will race alongside Alex Albon, but the candidates for that seat appear to be Logan Sargeant, Liam Lawson, and possibly Mick Schumacher.

At AlphaTauri, they are yet to confirm their driver line-up but, with Daniel Ricciardo, Lawson, and Yuki Tsunoda all in the running, there’s no room at the inn for Vettel.

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