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Sebastian Vettel retires: Racing legend’s departure loss to F1, bittersweet moment for fans-Sports News , Firstpost

It is always sad to see a legend leave the sport — and Vettel’s signature one figure victory salute and trademark victory donuts have been unforgettable. That said, it is also painful to watch a star struggle and slowly fade away

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel waves to fans at the Hungaroring racetrack in Mogyorod, near Budapest ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix. AP

In an eloquent short video on Instagram, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from the sport. It was an announcement that shocked the paddock, as it was widely expected that he would extend his racing contract with Aston Martin Formula One Team.

Farewell, Seb

In his announcement, Vettel focussed on his reason for retiring. He shared, “…As much as there’s life on track, there’s my life off track, too. Being a racing driver has never been my sole identity.” He explained that his goals have shifted — pointing to his “other interests outside Formula 1” notably his family. There was no regret — only the trademark optimism and passion that we’ve come to associate with Vettel.

It was interesting that Vettel’s video was in black and white — it seemed to symbolise the driver’s old-school, candid personality that endeared him in the paddock. It also poetically contrasts with the other titan of this generation, Lewis Hamilton — who is colourful, flamboyant and bold.

Vettel was fairly cryptic about what the future holds for him. He said, “My best race is still to come, I believe in moving forwards and moving on. Time is a one-way street and I want to grow with the times. Looking back is only going to slow you down. I look forward to racing down unknown tracks and I will be finding new challenges…” It seems fair to assume that his activism will hold centrestage. Personally, Vettel’s announcement was a bittersweet moment for us. It is always sad to see a legend leave the sport — and Vettel’s signature one figure victory salute and trademark victory donuts have been unforgettable. That said, it is also painful to watch a star struggle and slowly fade away — which has been the case with a spiraling Vettel in the past few seasons.

Vettel’s legendary F1 career

Sebastian Vettel has had a champion’s career in every sense. As a teenager, he quickly rose through the racing ranks — pegged as a prodigy as he grabbed various “youngest ever” records. On his F1 debut at the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix in FP2 for Sauber-BMW, he became the then-youngest Formula One driver to participate in a Grand Prix weekend. He was barely 19 years old. Vettel made his racing debut at the 2007 United States Grand Prix (replacing an injured Robert Kubica at BMW) and became the then-youngest driver to score championship points by finishing 8th.

One of the early highlights of Vettel’s career came at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix — when he prevailed in wet conditions for a stunning maiden race win for himself and Toro Rosso. He became the youngest winner in Formula 1 history. His then-team boss Gerhard Berger predicted that Vettel would “win championships” — words that would prove to be prophetic.

A move to Red Bull Racing in 2009 set the stage for a period for a winning partnership. He won four consecutive championships with the team (2010-2013) — including as the sport’s youngest ever driver champion in 2010. Interestingly, his championships were closely fought against Fernando Alonso in both 2010 (Vettel won by 4 points) and 2012 (Vettel won by 3 points). In 2013, Vettel had a dominant season with a record 9 wins in a row. A stand-out incident was when Vettel defied team orders to take the race win from teammate Mark Webber at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. It is an insight into his aggression and drive to win — a necessary quality for a Formula 1 champion.

Over these years, comparisons with Michael Schumacher abounded — not only were they German compatriots, but Vettel’s drive and precision on track was reminiscent of the all-time great. The media dubbed him “Baby Schumi” — a moniker that seemed even more fitting when Vettel made a shocking move from Red Bull Racing to Ferrari for the 2015 season.

He said then of his move, “The next stage of my Formula 1 career will be spent with Scuderia Ferrari and for me that means the dream of a lifetime has come true. When I was a kid, Michael Schumacher in the red car was my greatest idol and now it’s an incredible honour to finally get the chance to drive a Ferrari.” Sadly, Vettel’s stint with Ferrari was laced with disappointment and underperformance.

His challenges to a dominant Hamilton were lukewarm — and in general, the Vettel-Ferrari partnership lacked synchronicity. We saw Vettel make uncharacteristic driver errors and crumble under pressure — leaving us wondering whether the Vettel of the Red Bull days would ever return. Things got worse with the emergence of a young and restless Charles Leclerc — as Ferrari gradually rearranged themselves around this young driver, leaving Vettel to play a supporting role.

Vettel signed with Aston Martin for the 2021 season and beyond. It has largely been an unremarkable stint.

A champion of causes

Over the years, Vettel has become a champion of a different kind — lending his support to various causes from the LGBTQ+ community to climate change, ecological damage caused by mining, and beyond. In a widely circulated picture from the 2021 British Grand Prix, Vettel is seen lifting garbage from the grandstands after the race — reflecting his stance that he is interested in “taking action”. It has been an interesting journey to see how he has developed his activism and moral convictions. In fact, it has been a unique period for Formula 1, as two of its leading champions (Vettel and Hamilton) engaged in activism. It would not be surprising to see the duo continue to support each other — Vettel shared that Lewis (Hamilton) is “obviously one of the central figures… and the friends I’ve made. And that stays.”

What happens next?

Immediately, Vettel’s exit means there is an “extra” seat available on the grid for 2023. There has been speculation as to who could fill the seat — and since Aston Martin do not have an academy programme, the slate is wide open. Considering that their second driver is Lance Stroll, Aston Martin will likely be looking for a name who scores highly in terms of experience, team cooperation and marketability.

As they could with Vettel, one would be surprised if Aston Martin is able to sign a ‘headline’ driver for the team to replace their outgoing superstar. For starters, most of the experienced drivers are under contract for 2023 — and in the case of Alonso, a renewal does seem only procedural.

And secondly, Aston Martin has struggled for form in the new era of Formula 1 and is a bottom-of-the-table team currently. While Lawrence Stroll has been investing heavily in the team, an immediate recovery seems unlikely. It would take a lot more than hope and promise to lure one of the sport’s heavyweights to Aston Martin.

In a more general sense, Vettel’s departure is a loss to Formula 1. As Bernie Eccelctone once famously said, “If I could design a superstar, the result would be Sebastian Vettel. He’s just what F1 needs — young, super talented, intelligent, but with no trace of arrogance. And he’s popular with the public and good with the media.” The sport will be more than just one world champion poorer next season.

As for Vettel himself, he admitted in an interview with F1.com that he was scared of what’s coming — “because it might be a hole. I don’t know how deep it is or whether I’ll get out of it… hopefully I will make the right decisions also in the future to progress and become a better version of myself in 10 years’ time.”

In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the ten races that remain this season — the last ten races of Vettel’s glorious career. Once a champion, always a champion!

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