Sebastian Vettel has recounted a story from his first-ever Formula 1 test, when future team-mate Mark Webber came to his rescue…
Vettel’s F1 tenure came to an end at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of November, with the German driver calling time on his illustrious career after making his full-time debut in 2008 after appearances with BMW-Sauber and Toro Rosso in 2007.
During his climb into F1, Vettel enjoyed the backing of BMW alongside Red Bull and won the 2004 Formula BMW ADAC championship with 18 wins from 20 races.
Part of his reward for this campaign was a test of the Williams FW27 F1 car, with the Grove-based squad enjoying a works relationship with BMW at the time.
Vettel, then a slightly-built 18-year-old, showed up at Jerez for his test, and had the chance to work alongside Williams’ full-time race driver Mark Webber on the day.
While Vettel and Webber would have a fractious relationship during their time working together at Red Bull years later, that relationship has become far more amicable in the decade since Webber’s retirement from F1 – helped considerably by Vettel’s own temperament calming as he became older and wiser.
Both drivers appeared on Sky Germany recently as part of a segment reflecting on Vettel’s career, with the four-time World Champion revealing that Webber had to come to his aid after that Jerez test.
“Looking back over the years when we started and actually what people don’t know is I did my very very first test in 2005,” Vettel said.
“Mark was there as well, we shared the car. I had a deal with BMW that I was allowed to do a couple of laps and I remember the test very well because I was a bit scared after and my eyes were… I was full of adrenaline after the couple of laps that I had.”
Due to the brutal physicality of the 2005 F1 cars, Vettel was exhausted by the test – something that the stocky and sturdy Webber could see at the end of the day.
“I wasn’t able to hold on to my neck and, you know, Mark was so kind and gave us a lift to the airport, so that’s really when it started,” Vettel explained.
Mark Webber: Sebastian Vettel wasn’t physically ready for F1
While it’s not unthinkable for young teenage drivers to climb into modern F1 machinery and be comfortable quite quickly, with Max Verstappen’s debut at 17 years old the most famous example of this, the physical strength required for the V10-engined monsters of the 2000s meant Vettel simply wasn’t capable of making his debut any earlier than he did.
Webber commented on the Williams test at Jerez, revealing Vettel even questioned whether it would ever be possible for him.
By the time the pair teamed up at Red Bull in 2009, Webber said that Vettel had changed a ‘tremendous amount’ during the intervening years since that day working together in the FW27.
“In 2005, the Formula 1 cars were very light,” he said.
“They had a lot of power, huge grip, so, physically, it’s always the case – you’re not ready.
“Sebastian was not ready for that brutality of a Formula 1 car and he said to me at the time pretty much ‘I’m not sure if it’s possible for me to do this’.
“But he’s a hard worker, he goes away, [he’s] very analytical [and had] big belief in himself. He knew that the dream was still well and truly alive.
“We were teammates [from 2009]. [Red Bull] had not had much success until then. We were still growing as a team, but we knew we had a great chance to upset the established teams – let’s say the Ferraris, McLarens, and Williams at the time, to give them a hard time and we did that. So it was a cool journey.”
Sebastian Vettel admits ‘seeing things differently’ at career end
With the conversation moving on to the years Vettel and Webber shared together at Red Bull, Vettel admitted there were elements of his own behaviour that he now views differently given hindsight.
With Red Bull increasingly revolving around Vettel during their tenure as team-mates, the relationship became tense as team boss Christian Horner attempted to keep control of his warring drivers – with flashpoints coming at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix when the pair collided while leading the race, as well as the infamous ‘Multi-21’ incident at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix when Vettel ignored a team order to stay behind Webber.
“Obviously, the years after, [Mark’s] done incredible things – the qualifying speed he had, the experience he had once we raced together,” Vettel reflected.
“But there are probably some things that I see a little bit different now that I’m a little bit older and have gathered a bit of experience. At that time, I was only looking at what was right in front of me and at the track and that was all that mattered and I cared about.
“Mark, at that point, had lots of years in F1 and, if I compared to maybe the last three, four, five, six years, which is more or less the time that we raced together when I started in terms of how much experience I had the last five years and how much Mark had when I joined – it’s a completely different view of certain things.
“But I think we always had a straightforward relationship. There were surely some moments where we disagreed, let’s say, but I think we always had respect for each other and that respect I think helps us or helped us and helps us today to get along the way we do.”