In the wake of yet another dominant victory at the Korean Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel’s statistics this season are simply staggering: eight wins, 11 podiums and now a 77 points lead with only five races remaining in the 2013 Formula 1 world championship. The Red Bull driver, who is heading for his fourth title in as many years, spoke after his third consecutive win at the Mokpo venue.
Tell us how that race went for you. You had to deal with two pace cars at the same time during that race. How was it for you?
Sebastian Vettel: Yeah! Not great getting stuck behind the safety car. Obviously we had a little bit of a gap. Extremely happy with the result, great job by the team, we had two very good stops. I think it was quite good to have the safety car coming out the first time, we were just a couple of corners before the pit entry. And then fortunately we had enough pace to always open up a little bit of a gap even though I think Kimi and Romain, to be fair, were pretty competitive the longer the stint was. So I think they did maybe a better job with their tyres, looking after their tyres. But, all in all, yeah, fantastic. I’m just loving what I do. The team is fantastic, I think we all have a good time and just enjoy the moment really.
One thing we kept hearing about was a little bit of concern about the right-front tyre. What was the issue there?
SV: This track, it’s known that the limit is the front-right. We saw it the previous years, and basically it’s good to have the team on the radio warning you – because obviously you see what’s going on, the tyre grains immediately and then kind of stabilises. But when it stops graining basically there’s nothing left and that’s quite dangerous because it’s quite likely to have a big lock-up. You have a flat spot, which could end with pitting the stint earlier than you want or having a tyre puncture. So yeah, they were quite worried, similar to last year. I thought I had it more or less in control but obviously it’s good to communicate.
And what about leaving here, we’ve got Japan coming up. Looking forward to that? Is that a place you enjoy? By the look on your face yes.
SV: I think it’s the best track in the world, to be honest. The fans are crazy – completely crazy in a positive way so really looking forward to Japan. I think all of us who get massive support there, big fans of motorsport, passionate about Formula One and I think they enjoy the whole weekend, so I’m very much looking forward to one of the highlights during the season.
How important was it right at the start of the race to get that cushion?
SV: Yeah, it’s always tricky here because the way to the first corner is quite short but then you have two big straight lines. To be the first car is the worse because you have no tow. I had a good start and could focus on the first corner. I had a very good exit and was able to get a couple of metres between myself and Lewis and then I think Lewis was in more trouble with Romain from behind into Turn Three and I obviously benefit from that and had a little bit of cushion and again for the next straight and then kept the lead – which I think was crucial. After that I tried to build a gap and keep it quite consistent. I knew that on the soft tyres it will be tricky and yeah, obviously with the safety car later on it got quite busy.
And did you expect to do only around 11 laps on the soft tyre right at the start?
SV: Well, to be honest I think we came in last. I think we reacted to the other people behind. I think Lewis pitted lap nine, Romain lap 10. In that regard we had to react because obviously a ten, twelve lap-old supersoft tyre is slower than a new Prime, so we were responding to them. I think we could have stayed out another two or three laps but yeah, it didn’t really hurt our strategy. I think we estimated more or less to pit around that time.
And given what was going to happen, with that last safety car, when you came in for a stop did you have new Primes and how hard were you pushing after that?
SV: The safety car came in. Fortunately we were… I think I was turning into Turn 15 and I saw the safety car coming out so we pitted immediately. So did Romain. I think Lewis… Kimi pitted a couple of laps before that so his tyres were a little bit older but obviously took quite a long time before the safety car came back in and then there was another safety. So I think in terms of tyre age it was no problem. Obviously the cars get lighter towards the end, so fortunately we didn’t have to challenge the absolute maximum out of the tyres because I think the Lotuses were probably a little bit better in terms of endurance. Yeah. So, I think the speed was there and in the end obviously I tried to build up a little bit of a gap to Kimi and keep it quite consistent.
At the start of the second safety car period, were you aware that between turns one and two the car ahead of you was not the official safety car? Did you have any thoughts about it at all? Was there anything on the team radio, did they say anything, because Bernd Maylander was actually at the back of the field?
SV: I saw… I think it was a BMW or… no sorry, it looked like a BMW. I think it was a Hyundai or Kia SUV. You want the number plate? It was not Bernd Maylander’s, so it was not the safety car. I saw that. Obviously then the team said ‘yellow flag’, it wasn’t quite clear that it was the safety car but then the safety car board was flashing and I lifted and obviously saw that there was another car on the track, took quite easy to make sure I got past. I didn’t know what the incident was until I saw the smoke and so on. Obviously they said there was a crash. So I knew it was not the safety car.
You now have a 77 point lead in the championship – I don’t know if you’re aware – but you can now win the title in Japan next week. What does it meant to you now to be standing on the brink of that fourth successive world title?
SV: Yeah. I’m trying not to think about it to be honest. I’m trying to focus more on the present I think we obviously had the incredible chance, I think two years ago, to do so. We did it but I think there are still a lot of points to get, even though it looks very good for us. There’s still a chance for Fernando, I think, so we have to stay on top of our game but to be honest, I think I said on the podium, we’re just having a good time. We enjoy the fact that the team is working very well. The car is working… it’s on the edge to be honest, more so than you would probably think from the outside but it’s obviously nice when you get the results like Singapore or this weekend. To be honest with you, I don’t really care. I look forward to Japan because it’s one of the nicest tracks of the whole season.
You spoke earlier on the podium about this circuit being a little bit difficult on the front right tyre and we heard radio transmission from Rocky(race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin) saying ‘it’s opening up, take it easy’ but then you set the fastest lap. Was it perhaps more of a concern on the pit wall than in the cockpit?
SV: No, I think they obviously have a lot of data that they go through and they could obviously follow pretty well what was happening on the track. Obviously I have my eye on the front right, it’s quite easy to see. It’s more tricky with the rear tyres in the mirrors, but we know that this track is pretty monster for the front tyres, especially front right, also from previous years. And then obviously – Romain described it pretty well – once the tyre does come back, inside the cockpit at least you have the feeling that the car is alive again, the car is alive but actually the tyre is dead, there is no more rubber to grain so the tyre is more or less worn, so it’s quite tricky, because if you have a big lock-up, that could mean that it’s the end of the race. You have to come into the pits because you have a massive flat spot so I was aware but I could see that there was still a lot of rubber left and that the tyre was still graining. I think I was aware of the risk but it was still OK.
The three world titles you’ve won so far have all come at different circuits. At which circuit would it be the most special for you to win your fourth World Championship?
SV: To be honest, I don’t think it really matters. I think it’s an exceptional situation anyway. Even though it looks very good, it’s still not over so we shouldn’t feel too comfortable. Which track? It’s not really important. Sure, there are a couple of tracks that probably mean a little bit more to the drivers than others. I think generally there’s no track on the calendar that I dislike but there are a couple of highlights. I think I mentioned on the podium next week, Japan, is one of the highlights in the year, but regarding the championship I think our target is to win the championship and not to win it in one place in particular.