Suzuka brought a nostalgic Sebastian Vettel ‘alive’ in qualifying

Jamie Woodhouse
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, shields his eyes. Japan, October 2022.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, shields his eyes from the Suzuka sun. Japan, October 2022.

Sebastian Vettel hailed Suzuka as the best track of all in Formula 1 as he reached Q3 in his final qualifying session at the venue.

Vettel has many happy memories of the Suzuka circuit, having won the Japanese Grand Prix four times. Only Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton can boast a greater success record than that at this venue.

It had been Vettel on pole the last time Formula 1 contested qualifying at Suzuka in 2019 and although he did not clinch that spot this time around, that honour going to Max Verstappen, Vettel’s achievement in the Aston Martin certainly felt no less rewarding.

As Vettel confirmed his place in Q3, he took to team radio to exclaim: “Yes, boys, ecstatic with this one.”

He went on to secure P9 on the grid for his final Japanese Grand Prix, taking to the radio again after Q3 to deliver an emotional message as the four-time former World Champion put his love for Suzuka on full display.

“Okay, boys, good session, I really enjoyed it,” he began. “This track is just so much better than all the other ones. Suzuka, thank you, I will miss this place. But we have tomorrow to score some points.”

Asked by Sky Sports F1 after qualifying whether this achievement felt as good as pole to him, Vettel agreed, explaining Suzuka makes him “feel more alive”.

“Yeah, if you don’t look on the scoreboard where we ended up, I think the feeling is pretty much the same,” he said in agreement. “In terms of how happy I was with the laps I had today and the final one again.

“So yeah, I love this place, I love this track and it’s…you feel more alive. When you’re battling with a car and then yourself up that first sector, it’s just a big smile every time.”

Vettel then admitted laps like these make him not regret retiring from Formula 1 at the end of the season, but encounter a feeling of sadness.

“It’s more laps like this that make me a bit, not regret because I look forward to what’s coming, but it’s sad about the fact it’s the last time,” Vettel explained.

“Saturday here is different to Sunday because Sunday you have more fuel in the car, it’s more managing and a different discipline in a way. Saturday’s really when you are flying. We are far away from P1 but still the feeling in the car is something special when the fuel is light and the tyres are fresh.”

Sector one especially is a fantastic experience for Vettel – although when it comes to the slower sections later in the lap, he says this is where the heavy modern Formula 1 cars ruin the feeling in a way.

“I’ve obviously driven a lot around here and I think sector one is one of the best feelings, even though we are half a second slower, I guess, than the top guys at that first sequence,” he said.

“Still the cars produce a lot of downforce, they are just too heavy, so corners like Turn 11, that’s where you sit and you’re fighting the weight. But the other places, everywhere where it’s high speed, the feeling is pretty good.

“We’ve got decent balance. We didn’t change too much from last practice to qualifying and even in qualifying a little bit of front wing and that was it.

“In high speed I think these cars are still great fun – medium and lower speed you do feel the weight.”

Vettel’s Aston Martin team go into the race P7 in the Constructors’ standings, 15 points behind Alfa Romeo.

This is a track Vettel says would not normally suit Aston Martin but considering his starting position, the potential for rain and the feeling of having nothing to lose on Sunday, he does not see why Aston Martin cannot continue their form into the race.

“I think tomorrow will be crucial to look after tyres, we might have rain as well,” said Vettel. “We also have quite a big rear wing on, so maybe it helps.

“We have nothing to lose and it’s tight in the Constructors’ Championship and we want to score some points. On paper this is probably not the best track for us, but we had a good day today so why not do it again tomorrow?”

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