Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Alexandra Campos
Four World Titles. 53 race victories. 122 podiums. 57 pole positions. The statistics of the German driver, and one of the all-time greats of the sport, Sebastian Vettel, are much appreciated by the Formula 1 community. Vettel had announced that he will retire from Formula 1 at the end of the 2022 season. The German has had many great races throughout his career, some more notable than the others. There were many instances when he gave the fans a glimpse of his greatness, and left them in awe.
Vettel has won races for Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing, and Scuderia Ferrari. Most notable among his achievements are the four world titles he won with Red Bull Racing from 2010 to 2013. With the German’s career coming to an end, here is a lookback at some of his best races from his Formula 1 career:
2007 US Grand Prix
This was where it all began. The race that saw a young German show his skills to the Formula 1 community, and that he was a contender for a seat in any team for the 2007 Formula 1 season. A huge crash for BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica at the preceding Canadian Grand Prix saw him ruled out of the next race, at Indianapolis. This prompted BMW Sauber to hand a debut to their young 19-year old German driver named Sebastian Vettel. Vettel was quick right from the outset; qualifying in seventh place for the race and finishing the race in the then final points position in eighth. He thereby became the youngest driver to finish a race in the points at that time, until Daniil Kvyat took those honours in the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Not bad for a debut race weekend, eh? Vettel would then be signed by Toro Rosso for the remainder of the 2007 season.
2008 Italian Grand Prix
If Vettel’s debut in the previous season was impressive, his Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza in 2008 was truly the breakthrough weekend of his career. Having signed with Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2008 season as well, this was his first full season in the sport. During a soaking wet qualifying session, when every other driver was struggling to find good grip on the track, Vettel put in a stunning lap of 1:37.555 to secure pole position for the race. It was his maiden pole position, and he became the youngest driver to start a race from pole position, at an age of 21 years and 72 days. This is a record which he holds even today.
The race started on a wet track, and therefore, under the safety car. Once the safety car pulled into the pits, Vettel managed to pull away from the rest, being in a comfortable lead of 6.3 seconds by lap eight itself. The German would maintain his composure, and keep a cool, calm head while at the front, to eventually take his first win in Formula 1 by 12.5 seconds from Heikki Kovalainen. At 21 years and 73 days, he was then the youngest driver to win a race, which stood until Max Verstappen took the record at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
This performance definitely caught the attention of everybody in the paddock, including a certain Red Bull Racing, with whom he would eventually sign for the 2009 season and beyond.
2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
By this point, Sebastian Vettel had taken a number of victories for Red Bull in his two seasons as a driver for them. The 2010 Formula 1 season saw a close championship battle, with Vettel, his teammate Mark Webber, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton all going into the season finale at Abu Dhabi with a chance to win the title. Alonso and Webber looked to be the favourites to win the title, and Vettel, who was 15 points off Alonso, had the odds of winning stacked against him.
Vettel would take pole position in qualifying though, ahead of the McLarens of Hamilton and Jenson Button, with Alonso starting fourth. The race was turned on its head on the first lap itself with a safety car being called out due to an incident between Michael Schumacher and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Several drivers pitted during this safety car period, but the frontrunners stayed out. On lap 11, Webber made a very early pit stop and rejoined the race in 16th place. Alonso pitted on lap 15 and rejoined just ahead of Webber. However, both of them were behind Renault driver Vitaly Petrov, who had already stopped under the safety car on lap one. This would prove to be very costly, as Alonso and Webber were held back by Petrov, allowing other drivers to jump them in the pit stop phases. Eventually, Vettel would cross the line to win the race, and his race engineer responded to him by saying, “I need to wait until everybody crosses the line, you just wait, sunshine, you just wait, it’s looking good”. Seconds later, as Alonso took the chequered flag in seventh place ahead of Webber, his engineer responded with the famous radio message, “Du Bist, Weltmeister!”
Vettel became the youngest driver to win a World Championship, at 23 years and 134 days old. This record stands even today.
2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
This would turn out to be one of Vettel’s most important races in the 2012 Formula 1 season, and even more so being the third-to-last race of the season. After a dominant 2011 season, 2012 had been a much tougher season for the German, seeing him win only one race in the first half of the season, at Bahrain. The second half, however, saw him win four races on the bounce, at Singapore, Japan, South Korea and India, thus making the most of his opportunities as his rival Fernando Alonso DNFed in Belgium and Japan. Vettel even took the championship lead from Alonso after winning at South Korea.
However, he was brought back down to earth in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. After qualifying in third place for the race, Vettel was later disqualified from qualifying after it was later found out that he had stopped on the track due to a fuel pump issue. Red Bull opted to make set-up changes to Vettel’s car, and thus he would be starting the race from the pit lane. The race would be nothing short of a roller-coaster for Seb: He made his way up to 17th before he damaged his car’s front wing while trying to overtake Bruno Senna’s Williams. His team decided not to pit for a new front wing at that moment, as the damage was minor. The race was then interrupted by a safety car, due to Nico Rosberg crashing into Narain Karthikeyan just before the hotel section. Vettel had a near-miss with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, having to swerve into the DRS (Drag Reduction System) sign to avoid hitting Ricciardo while weaving on the straight. He would pit for a new front wing and rejoin the race in last place. Once the race restarted, Vettel began to make his way back through the pack, and making his way through the chaos that ensued ahead of him, before making an important move on Jenson Button to finish in third place, just behind his title rival Alonso, thus causing him to lose only three points in the standings to the Spaniard.
2012 Brazilian Grand Prix
The season finale at Brazil saw another one of Vettel’s highly regarded drives in that season. It was a race against all odds, in a broken car to save his championship lead and win his third World Championship in the sport.
Vettel started the race from fourth place, three places ahead of his championship rival Alonso. However, he had a poor start, and fell to seventh. At turn 4, he was spun round by Bruno Senna, falling all the way down to last place. He also had damage on his sidepod, but was able to carry on in the race. After everyone but the leaders pit for intermediate tyres, he was running fifth, one position behind Alonso. Debris on the track brought the safety car on lap 23. On lap 29, when the race restarted, Vettel’s car damage slowed his pace, thus leading to him being passed by Kamui Kobayashi and Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa.
On lap 54, Nico Hulkenberg collided with Lewis Hamilton while battling for the lead, forcing the Brit to retire from the race. It began raining again, and Vettel came into the pits for intermediate tyres. Due to not having contact with his team via radio, Vettel’s pit crew were caught unawares and had to rush, thus leading to the German rejoining the race in 11th place after a slow stop. Meanwhile, Alonso had inherited second place. Vettel had his task cut out, and thus began to make a comeback. He overtook Ricciardo, Kobayashi, and got a position when Michael Schumacher let him by, to be in sixth place and have secured enough points to win the championship.
The race finished under the safety car, and thus Vettel became a three time World Champion, finishing three points ahead of Alonso in the standings.
2013 Singapore Grand Prix
The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix was the epitome of Vettel’s dominance in the 2013 Formula 1 season. Never before had there been such a race weekend when he had been absolutely unstoppable.
The qualifying session was where Vettel gave us a glimpse of his superiority in skill around the Singapore street circuit. Having set a time of 1:42.841 on his first run in the deciding Q3 session, he opted to stay in his garage, and not to go out and set another lap. His competitors went quicker in the sectors, but ultimately not enough to beat the German’s time, thus leading to him securing pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix.
And on Sunday, Vettel put in an amazing drive, being in another league compared to the rest. The only times when he looked challenged were during the race start and on the safety car restart. He was able to pull out a lead of five seconds to the driver in second, Nico Rosberg. This grew to seven seconds by lap 11, when the first round of pit stops took place. Vettel stretched his lead to ten seconds after the stops, until Daniel Ricciardo crashed on lap 23 and brought out the safety car. On the restart, Vettel nonchalantly pulled away from the rest at around two seconds per lap, to a point when he was able to make a pit stop and still retain the lead of the race. He would eventually win the race by a staggering 32 seconds from his nearest competitor, Fernando Alonso.
This weekend is still remembered by many fans as a reminder of how dominant Vettel was in his prime.
2013 Indian Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel’s record at the Indian Grand Prix reads: Three races, Three wins. It is no secret to see how much Vettel enjoyed racing on this track, even comparing it to the famous “Spa Francorchamps” circuit in Belgium, when the inaugural race was hosted at the track in 2011.
Coming into this race weekend, all the German had to do was finish in the top five, and would be guaranteed a fourth World Title, irrespective of what his rival Alonso would achieve in the race. He set the tone for the weekend in qualifying, taking pole position for the race. In the race, he pulled away from the pack by some four seconds in two laps, before making his first pit stop of the race. He rejoined in 17th place, and began to make his way back through the pack. He took the lead when his teammate Webber made his stop. By the time both drivers had made their second stops, Vettel would once again regain the lead of the race. Meanwhile, Alonso was having a tough race, and was outside the top ten for most of it. Vettel would go on to win the race by almost 30 seconds, and win his fourth World Championship. And then, he gave the crowd some more entertainment by proceeding to do donuts on the start-finish straight, and bow down to his car. This still remains an iconic sight even today, and it was the moment when most Indian Formula 1 fans became Sebastian Vettel fans too.
2015 Malaysian Grand Prix
After a tough 2014 season with Red Bull, Vettel moved to Ferrari in an attempt to win for the Italian team. The 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix was only his second race for the team. Starting on the front row for the race, Vettel stayed behind race leader Lewis Hamilton in the initial laps. Then, on lap four, Marcus Ericsson spun at turn one into the gravel trap and caused a safety car. Both Mercedes drivers pitted under the safety car, whereas Vettel opted to stay out and hold track position. Once the race resumed, Vettel pulled away from the group of drivers behind him, pulling out a lead of around ten seconds by the time Hamilton regained second place, on lap ten.
Vettel made his first pit stop on lap 18, coming out in third place, and began to steadily close down on the two Mercedes. He took the lead from Hamilton on lap 24, as Hamilton dived into the pits for his second stop. Vettel made his second stop on lap 38, and Hamilton made his stop a lap later, emerging 12 seconds behind Vettel. Vettel maintained his lead, and took the chequered flag to take his first win with Ferrari.
He would take two further wins with the team that season at Hungary and Singapore.
2018 British Grand Prix
This race could be thought of as one of the best of Vettel’s time at Ferrari. Consistently quick through the weekend, and having great pace throughout the race to eventually take the win.
He was beaten to pole position by Hamilton, but on race day, Vettel jumped the Brit at the start itself. He kept the lead after the first round of pit stops as well, as Hamilton made his way back through the pack after a lap one incident with Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Keeping his calm through two safety car periods, after having stopped again on lap 32, Vettel kept close to Valtteri Bottas after the second safety car period. He made a great overtake on the Finn into Brooklands corner on lap 47, to take the lead of the race, and would hold onto it until the chequered flag. This victory was one of the high points of Vettel’s 2018 season.
2019 Singapore Grand Prix
This was Vettel’s last victory in Formula 1, and it was fitting to have come on one of his favourite racetracks. Having taken provisional pole position initially, Vettel lost pole to his teammate Charles Leclerc, and the front row spot to Hamilton. However, on race day, Vettel was at his best on the streets of Singapore. He harried Hamilton on lap one, and stayed behind the Brit until the first round of stops. Vettel pitted on lap 19, and managed to put in a blistering out lap to jump his teammate for the lead of the race.
He would eventually take the lead from Antonio Giovinazzi, who hadn’t stopped yet, on lap 31, and maintain his composure through three safety car periods, to eventually take the win for his team. It was his fifth win around the streets of Singapore, thus making him the most successful driver on those streets.
2020 Turkish Grand Prix
This race was the shining moment for Vettel in one of his toughest seasons in Formula 1. Points were hard to come by in the 2020 season, in an underpowered Ferrari SF1000. The German went into the Turkish Grand Prix having scored only 18 points till then. In a weekend of wet weather running, he fancied his chances of getting a great result in the race.
Qualifying saw both Ferrari drivers knocked out in Q2. They would start the race from 11th and 12th, with Vettel ahead of his teammate Charles Leclerc. On race day, what would follow was a masterful drive in the wet weather from the German. Making a great start from the grippier side of the grid, Vettel had made his way up into fourth place by Turn 2 itself. Later in the lap, he passed Hamilton to slot into third. Vettel held off the threat of Hamilton and Max Verstappen, to stay in third until the first round of pit stops, when all drivers changed onto intermediate tyres. Vettel lost position to Verstappen, but managed to stay ahead of Hamilton. Vettel would later regain third when Verstappen spun, but lost the position to Alex Albon in the other Red Bull.
During the second round of pit stops, when most of the drivers changed onto a new set of intermediate tyres, Vettel too changed onto the intermediate tyre, and came out on the same piece of racetrack as his teammate Leclerc. Together, both the Ferraris jumped Alex Albon in the pit stops, overtook Lance Stroll’s Racing Point and Max Verstappen to sit in third and fourth, with Leclerc ahead. Sergio Perez and Hamilton had stayed out on their old intermediate tyres, and were being caught rapidly by the duo. Eventually, Leclerc would catch Perez on the last lap, but went onto the dirty part of the track while trying to overtake him into the last section of corners. Vettel got past his teammate and took third place, thereby securing a podium in his final year for Ferrari.