The eyes are blue, almost shockingly so, and they brim with mischief.
Sebastian Vettel has the look of a man who knows something you don’t, and he’s not afraid to let it show.
In fairness, there’s ample evidence the 25-year-old German does in fact understand plenty about Formula One racing that his peers don’t. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and why not?
Watch: Vettel claims first win on Canadian soil
His Red Bull is the fastest car on the track, he has won the drivers’ title three years running, and on Sunday he added an elusive feather to his cap, winning his first Canadian Grand Prix.
“All in all, a very important race for us to win,” Vettel said. “Finally we get it off the list.”
This one wasn’t close. Vettel, who has a commanding 36-point lead in the drivers’ standings, took the checkered flag 14.4 seconds ahead of Ferrari ace Fernando Alonso.
Despite soggy qualifying conditions, Vettel grabbed the pole on Saturday – the third year in a row he has done so on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve – and in the dry, cool, sunny conditions of race day, he shot off the line and quickly built up what turned out to be an insurmountable lead.
When it was all said and done 70 laps later, he had lapped all but the top five finishers (17 cars in total). The only sogginess in sight was on Vettel’s racing suit as he received a champagne shower on the podium.
He has now won three times in seven starts this season, and his lead atop the drivers’ standings is growing.
Vettel is said to have started doing circuits of his parents’ yard in a go-kart before he was four, and you don’t need to look at him that closely to see that child reveal himself. But as his legend grows, so too does his assurance as a leader in the paddock.
Vettel has groused publicly about the Pirelli rubber that the F1 racing teams use, and when he was asked after Sunday’s race, gently tweaked a British reporter who asked him whether the result might change his opinion.
“The criticism we had or I expressed was not based on performance,” Vettel said. “I think it was based on safety … but obviously when you say something, it’s in fashion these days to take what you like instead of probably publishing the whole answer.”
He has earned the right to do such things.
Vettel has already won 29 career races, two more than his idol, Michael Schumacher, won in his first seven seasons, and is the youngest man ever to win the F1 driving crown. And a second. And a third.
Also, he’s intent on getting better.
It’s easy to forget how young Vettel is, he is still prone to mistakes and overexuberance. In 2011, he led on the last lap in Montreal, but got wide on a turn, was passed by McLaren’s Jenson Button, and finished second.
Even in this race, Vettel showed his impetuous side, coming perilously close to brushing a wall in the early going (“a little bit closer than I wanted”), and on lap 52 he had to bail out of the first corner after carrying too much speed and missing the braking point.
The team radio crackled: “Settle down.”
Afterward, Vettel admitted his mistake: “I think I could have saved or caught the car, but I didn’t want to risk a spin. So I decided, should I stay, should I go, should I stay, should I go, then I decided to cut the corner.”
He gave away five seconds to the competition, but his cushion was such that it didn’t allow his closest pursuers – Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Alonso – to cut into the lead.
It’s no accident that the podium featured three men who have won the world title – Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton – and the three teams that lead the constructor standings.
Vettel leads drivers standings after seven races with 132 points to 96 for Alonso, who moved past Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus (88 points) into second place. Hamilton is fourth with 77.
Given Vettel’s huge lead, the day’s best duels both involved Alonso, who started sixth, overtook Mark Webber after a lengthy battle, then passed Hamilton (who had started on the front row) in the late going.
“It was nice to have these battles, particularly this race with so talented drivers, so intelligent drivers, that, you know, you fight wheel-to-wheel at 315 kilometres an hour and you feel safe,” Alonso said. “It can go your way or it can go the other way, but this is real racing.”
That’s clearly an opinion shared by the cheering fans, who packed the stands on what turned out to be a perfect day for racing. They’ll surely turn out in massive numbers for next year’s race, but uncertainty reigns over the Canadian Grand Prix’s future beyond 2014, when the current contract with F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone runs out.
Race promoter François Dumontier said turnout will surely outstrip the 285,000 that attended in 2012, and that he remains confident a 10-year extension can be negotiated between Ecclestone and the various levels of government that underwrite the event to the tune of $15-million a year.
“We haven’t reached an agreement yet, but I remain hopeful,” Dumontier said.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois was on hand to bend Ecclestone’s ear, as were provincial Finance Minister Nicholas Marceau and federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel, the political minister for Quebec.
The drivers were unanimous in their praise for the atmosphere of Sunday’s race and for Montreal in general. The ball is now in the governments’ court.
With a report from The Canadian Press