He has an infectious smile and wicked sense of humour, and he gives his cars names like Kinky Kylie, Hungry Heidi, Luscious Liz. His steely blue eyes glitter with mischief when he inevitably finds a way to talk about man parts during interviews or press conferences.
He’s also spent the past four years rewriting the Formula One record book, becoming the youngest driver to achieve success in the history of the sport.
Meet Red Bull Racing’s 26-year-old phenom Sebastian Vettel, the youngest driver in F1 history to score a point, take a pole, stand on a podium, win a race, and bring home a first, second, third and now a fourth world championship.
And after dominating the 2013 season and sealing a fourth consecutive world title on Sunday in India, the brash German just might now be F1’s youngest-ever legend.
Although he easily has a decade or more to go in his F1 career, there’s no doubt that Vettel’s name isn’t out of place in the same sentence as the legendary drivers who have won four world titles: seven time world champion Michael Schumacher (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) Juan Manuel Fangio (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957), and Alain Prost (1985, 1986, 1989, 1993).
Being part of that group – let alone being called a legend after just his seventh full F1 season – might take some time to digest.
“To win four titles, I don’t know, it’s just a big number, you know?” said Vettel, following his dominant win in Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix that clinched the 2013 F1 and making him the first driver to win his first four world championships consecutively.
“To join people like that: Michael, Fangio, Prost is very difficult to put into perspective. I’m way too young to understand what it means. I might be 60 one day, maybe then I will understand but nobody cares any more. I care, it’s difficult to realize something that nobody can take away from you, basically.”
While he’s already amassed an impressive haul, it’s difficult to imagine Vettel will stop there. Many compare him to Schumacher – he was dubbed “Baby Schumi” years ago – and it’s obvious they share many traits, among then being fast, ruthless and driven to win – sometimes at all costs. Like Schumacher, Vettel also works hard off the track, often staying at the track late with his engineers and mechanics as they prepare his car for grands prix.
Coincidentally, they both also attracted the wrath of fans due to their lust for victory. More than a decade ago, Schumacher got skewered when team orders forced his teammate Rubens Barrichello to pull aside in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix and let the German take the chequered flag. Early this year, Vettel saw the sharp end of criticism after disobeying team orders and passing his teammate Mark Webber for the win earlier in Malaysia.
That transgression, combined with his constant winning, caused some fans to turn on Vettel, with some even booing him on the podium after victories in Italy and Singapore in September.
The harsh treatment also showed Vettel’s sensitive side.
“No, I’m not – I don’t know the word, nachtragend (hold a grudge) – I don’t blame people,” Vettel said.
“At the time it hurts, as I said, not to get the reception that you expect, but at the same time, I think I’m clever enough to understand why they do it. I’m not blaming them. Maybe if I would be a fan of McLaren, Ferrari, whatever, one of the traditional teams, I wouldn’t like it if the same kind of guys, same team wins again and again.”
He also ran into some trouble with the other teams this year after claiming the others don’t work hard enough, saying that his team would still be at the track working while opposing engineers were at their hotels hanging their testicles in the pool. It wasn’t the first time Vettel spoke about his or others male anatomy and, if past remarks are any evidence, it certainly won’t be the last.
Strangely, there are also some who chalk up Vettel’s success to his car, which admittedly has been the class of the field for the past few seasons. Those who do so forget that this is typical in F1, with one team using their earned knowledge to build a title-winning car.