The achievements just keep getting more and more impressive for Sebastian Vettel as his inexorable journey to a fourth World title continued unabated at the Japanese Grand Prix, where he chalked up his ninth win of the season, the fifth in a row since his streak began at the Belgian GP in August, his fourth in five years at Suzuka and his 35th F1 career victory. The reigning triple World Champion (and World Champion elect) spoke about his afternoon in Japan.
Nine times a winner already this season – but the championship is still alive. Tell me all about it.
Sebastian Vettel: Konnichi-wa, first of all. Yeah, first of all, I would like to say thank you to all the fans. Every time we come here, the appreciation, the respect we get as drivers is incredible. Obviously, I’m blown away with today’s race. I had a very, very poor start. I think it was right between Romain and, I think, Lewis and I clipped a little bit the front wing. I think Lewis had a puncture after that. I couldn’t go anywhere. After that we were patient, looked after the tyres and had incredible pace towards the end. So we managed to get past Romain, beat Mark on another strategy so, all in all, fantastic. I’m so overwhelmed every time we come here. Thank you very much again for the support.
Who made the final decision on what tyres you were going to run? We got the impression you made the decision right at the very last moment.
SV: Well, to be honest, it happened…I think the decision was already made in the first stint because we stayed out longer, so we obviously took into account that we lapped slower than the others who were on fresh tyres, in order to push them later in the race. We had a similar race in 2011, where I think I came in always as the first and I was under enormous pressure towards the end of the race and got passed by two cars. So this time we did it the other way around: had enough pace in the car to look after the tyres, control the race. Yeah, it was not easy to make the two-stop work, especially in the middle stint – but I think the first stint was crucial to make the decision to stay out and then decide for a two-stop, which turned out to be…[interrupted]
You’re ever so close to pulling it off with your fourth consecutive championship. What are your thoughts going into the next race?
SV: First of all, I would like to enjoy today. I think it was a fantastic race. I love this track. As I said, the people are great and make it a very, very special place for us. I’d love to enjoy that first, obviously it does no harm when you win, for the Championship. I’ve won now four times here in Suzuka, which is incredible. I’m really looking forward to next year, to be honest. Regarding the Championship, as I said, I think obviously we have a very, very good gap but we still keep pushing. I think we’ve proven in the last couple of years that we never give up. I think we’ve won one or two Championships because of that. Obviously this year it looks very good at this stage – but it’s not over before it’s over.
You really did seem to enjoy this victory hugely. Is it because of the various problems that happened along the way? The start, for example, the first corner, one or two lock-ups, an interesting tactic…
SV: Yeah, certainly – but I think mostly it’s because of the circuit and the fans to be honest. It’s one of the highlights in the year. I love this track and I’ve been very, very fortunate to have a great car in the past and against this year, being able to finish on the podium and win four times now. Incredible. When we leave the hotel in the morning I think it’s the same for all of us. It makes it so special. The people are crazy about Formula 1. They really, yeah, admire us, which is very nice. They love what we do and appreciate the fact [that] we go around. You have the people on the grandstand yesterday, I ran the circuit and there were I think 5 000 people on the grandstand just watching. They are amazed by F1 and I think that makes it so special and taste so sweet. As you touched on, obviously with the race today, a horrible start but then a fantastic comeback.
That long middle stint – a 23-lap middle stint – and there were one or two lock-ups. Were you affected by that or were the tyres in good condition all the way?
SV: Well, you know, you struggle more in the end obviously. I tried to control the gaps. Obviously we started already to go longer than Romain and Mark in the first stint, so we took into account that we lap a second a lap slower for two or three laps compared to them in order to get the range in the next stint and then tried to extend that to really put them under pressure towards the end. That was, let’s say, the game plan. Obviously after the first pit stop I think very soon in the second stint, Mark decided to go for the three-stop, which wasn’t far off. Before the race I think we targeted more towards two stops but the tyres weren’t holding up as well as probably we thought. As I said, I really tried to manage the gaps in the beginning of the stint and then close the gap, which worked brilliantly, especially with Romain. The end of the second stint I was just on his tail when he pitted, [I was] able to stay out another couple of laps and then I had more or less fresh tyres when I was able to pass him, so, yeah, great strategy. It obviously worked. We made it…we didn’t lose the patience early on. Tried obviously to make the stints as long as possible to help us at the end of the race.
You haven’t won your fourth consecutive title yet but it’s almost certain to happen this season, barring something very odd. Now you’re also a man who collects an awful lot of race wins, record after record. What means more to you: going down in history with the likes of Fangio and Schumacher as one of three men to have collected four consecutive titles, or to stand on the top of every podium on the calendar?
SV: I think I prefer the second thing you said. You know, I love racing. When I was small, I was dreaming about F1 and honestly never thought that one day I would be able to test one of these cars. First time I tested the car, it was… Mark drove in the morning, I drove in the afternoon. I sh1t myself the first couple of laps and I thought, alright, that’s for real men, not for me. Then I got used to it and obviously wanted to do more. A couple of years later, obviously I had the chance to get a drive, Red Bull gave me the chance at Toro Rosso to get some races. It’s incredible what’s happened over the last couple of years but nothing has changed in the way that I still love racing, I love the challenge, I’m still nervous when I wake up on Sunday, still excited when I walk on the grid and tense, looking forward to the race. Enjoying – not the numbers – but enjoying the fact that I’m racing and a great crowd today, a fantastic day. As I said, I think it would be a shame if you were too tense and if you tried to force things too much. I think you have to allow yourself to enjoy it because this is not normal, it doesn’t happen to everyone. I think I’m very fortunate that I’m one of these 22/24 guys in F1. As I said, we leave the hotel, great respect from the fans, they’re cheering, they’re shouting our names and it’s just great. That’s what I’m looking forward to most, obviously try to do it again. I love trophies so I don’t mind collecting a few either!
After overtaking Grosjean, did you ask the team what position Alonso was in in the race?
Did the team inform you?
SV: After the race. Obviously I knew that in the last stint, once we got past Romain, I knew that Mark was the biggest threat from behind. He was on fresher tyres and pretty quick. Obviously he got stuck with Romain a little bit which helped us. But I didn’t really…I didn’t ask and I didn’t want to know because there are still things that can happen at the end, even if you have a little bit of a gap and so on. We’ve seen today a lot of lock-ups; I was wide once in turn two, at the beginning of the race. Mark just said he knew where I was in one of the stints in the race because there was smoke here, smoke there. I was struggling a little bit with locking up the tyres. I was busy enough, also carrying the car to the chequered flag. (FIA Media)
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