Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel has announced that he will be retiring from the sport at the end of the 2022 F1 season. A winner of 53 Grands Prix, Vettel lies third on the list of most wins by a Formula One driver. Having stood on the podium 122 times and having scored more than 3000 points, Vettel is one of Formula One’s all-time greats.
From his stunning win in Monza with Toro Rosso to his final win in Singapore with Ferrari (till date), Vettel has provided Formula One fans with some of the most iconic moments of the sport. As the German gets ready to finish the 2022 season and leave the sport, in this article, I take a look at ten of Vettel’s finest moments on track, which define the German for what he is: a champion.
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USA 2007: A star is born
Following Robert Kubica’s massive crash at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007, BMW Sauber replaced him with Formula Renault 3.5 champion, a 19-year-old Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel was straight on the pace and showed the world why he belonged on the Formula One track after qualifying a stunning seventh, ahead of the likes of the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.
On race day, the rookie managed to steer clear of the carnage on Lap 1 that saw Schumacher, Barrichello and Coulthard all retire. Although he lost a couple of places avoiding the chaos, Vettel put in a commanding drive which saw him finish eighth and become Formula One’s youngest point-scorer at the time. While his teammate, Nick Heidfeld, suffered a hydraulics issue, Vettel got home an important point for his team and, more importantly, showed the entire world what he was capable of on the track.
Italy 2008: The first of many
Following his move to Toro Rosso in 2008, it wasn’t the best of starts for the young German. Vettel had retired in all of the opening four races of the season and had only scored points five times by the time they reached Monza for the fourteenth race of the season.
For Toro Rosso, who were based out of Faenza, the Italian Grand Prix was their home race. The sister Red Bull team were hoping for a strong result at home and a good haul of points. What Sebastian Vettel did that weekend changed not only his career but the team’s history as well.
It was a wet weekend in Monza and Vettel was right on the pace, finishing a stunning P2 in the third practice session ahead of the likes of Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Qualifying also took place in the wet weather and Vettel reigned supreme in the rain. The young German topped both the final two sessions of Qualifying, finishing a tenth clear of Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren in P2.
Race day also saw heavy rain, and a rolling start helped Vettel fend off any attack from those behind. Once he got accustomed to the track, the German quickly consolidated his lead, and by the eighth lap he was more than six seconds ahead of his nearest rival. While various other drivers ran wide, lost grip or spun out, Vettel kept a cool and collected head to keep and hold onto his lead. By the time he crossed the chequered flag, Vettel finished 12.5 seconds ahead of Kovalainen in second place.
Not only did Vettel give Toro Rosso their best result in Formula One and their first victory, he also became the youngest driver to win a Formula One race at the time.
Abu Dhabi 2012: A class apart
By the time Formula One got to Abu Dhabi in 2012, the Championship battle was evenly poised with Vettel in first position with a lead of 13 points over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. With three races to go, the title could have gone either way and each point was as crucial as it could be.
Things didn’t get off to the greatest of starts for Vettel in Abu Dhabi. Although he had qualified a commendable third, with Alonso qualifying sixth, Vettel was penalised by the FIA for failing to provide a litre of fuel sample for analysis post qualifying. He was dropped to the back of the grid after being disqualified from Qualifying and Red Bull decided to start him from the pit lane, which was by no means the easiest of starts given the nature of the track layout at the Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi.
Things didn’t get off to a great start as Vettel suffered early damage on his front wing and then hit the DRS sign during the Safety Car period after Daniel Ricciardo in front of him swayed a bit too much, leaving Vettel to take evasive action. A pit-stop for replacing the damaged parts saw Vettel rejoin in P21, but after that there was no stopping him. He put in an overtaking masterclass at a track not known for too many overtakes, and then put in a stunning and bold overtake on McLaren’s Jenson Button to take third position right towards the end of the race. The podium place was not only a testament to the quality of driver Vettel was but also made sure he did not lose out on too many points to Alonso, who finished second.
Brazil 2012: Against the odds
Heading into the season finale in Brazil in 2012, Vettel led the Championship standings from Alonso by 13 points. It was all to play for in São Paulo. Both drivers were in contention to win the Championship, and it was going down to the wire on the very last race of the season.
Vettel qualified a disappointing fourth by his standards, but given that Alonso was eighth, it wasn’t all that bad. Racing got underway under light rain, and it was the worst start Vettel could have hoped for, especially given that the Championship was on the line. After being pushed wide by his own teammate Mark Webber, Vettel lost three places at the start and was then hit in the back by Bruno Senna, spinning and falling plumb last at P24. He managed to carry on, though, and after a couple of retirements up front, he began his charge through the field.
Vettel was up to P15 by Lap 5 and was demonstrating another overtaking masterclass. When he came in for his first pit-stop on Lap 10, he was already P6, but due to impending rain, the team called him in to not take any risks. He rejoined in P18 and started to get back to overtaking the field once again.
Vettel was breezing past everyone on the track and was up to P3 by Lap 19. He came in for another stop on Lap 20 and rejoined in P5. He held on to the position for a while, and when the rain got heavier, Vettel was called in for his third stop on Lap 53, rejoining in P10.
After race leader Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton collided, it promoted Alonso in the title position should things remained the same. Vettel came in for a fourth stop on Lap 55, but his team weren’t ready for him, which caused a delayed stop and he rejoined in P12 and out of the points.
With a handful of laps to go, Vettel went into overdrive and climbed back to P6, and after Paul di Resta’s crash, the race finished under the Safety Car, which meant Alonso couldn’t make up any further positions.
By finishing sixth in one of the most eventful races in modern F1 history, Vettel became the youngest triple World Champion and wrote his name into the record books. Not only did that day show Vettel’s tremendous skill and talent but also his resilience and spirit to not give up, even when if the odds would be stacked against him.
2013: Nine in a row — Untouchable
The 2013 season saw Vettel engaged in another title fight with Alonso at the start of the season when both the Champions traded wins, and with Mercedes also coming to the party, it was a three-way fight between Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had won three of the opening ten races, and the Championship was evenly poised when racing got to Spa for Round 11. Kimi Räikkönen’s stunning performances with Lotus meant the 2007 World Champion was in with a shot at the title as well.
Hamilton took pole in Spa, but Vettel straight away got Hamilton up Eau Rouge on the opening lap and there was no looking back. Vettel finished a good 16 seconds ahead of Alonso in second and extended his Championship lead.
From Spa onwards, there was no driver or team that even came close to Vettel. He smashed all the records and not only won an incredible nine races in a row but also took home a fourth consecutive World title at the age of 26. Such was his dominance, that Vettel wrapped up the season by Round 16 of 19 at the Indian Grand Prix itself.
Singapore 2013: Dominance of another kind
Vettel came to Singapore in 2013 on the back of two back-to-back wins in Belgium and Italy and high on confidence. While Mercedes’ Hamilton topped Qualifying Session 1, Vettel was comfortably ahead in the second Qualifying session. For the final qualifying session, Vettel put in the fastest time to take provisional pole after his first lap of the session.
After being six-tenth clear of Nico Rosberg in second place, Red Bull decided to keep Vettel in the pits, expecting his first time to be enough for a pole position. With just under two minutes to go, all of the top ten went out for their final flying laps, except Vettel, who stayed in his garage. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg was the first to challenge Vettel’s time, and the 2016 World Champion was only nine-hundredths of a second off pole.
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber, who was putting in the fastest first two sectors on his flying lap, seemed to be taking pole away from the German, but Webber’s poor final sector saw him three-tenths behind Vettel. With both the Ferrari drivers struggling, Vettel took pole in Singapore and went on to convert it into a win the following day.
An unprecedented move and a bold one as well from the team, but such was the dominance of Vettel during that period that just a single run in the final Qualifying session was enough to secure him the pole.
Bahrain 2018: Managed to perfection
After finishing second in the Championship battle against Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in 2017, Vettel and Ferrari were eager to make up for their shortcomings of the previous season. Vettel started the 2018 season in a strong manner, and after winning the season-opener in Melbourne, he was looking for a second win in Bahrain.
Vettel qualified a comfortable P1, almost two-tenths on his teammate Kimi Räikkönen in second place. The German got off well, and while Kimi Räikkönen lost a place to the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, Vettel maintained his lead.
While there was all sorts of drama behind him, Vettel held on to his lead well and by Lap 5 was almost two seconds ahead of Bottas in second place. Vettel came in for his pit-stop on Lap 18 and re-joined in third place behind Lewis Hamilton and Bottas, who inherited the lead of the race. Vettel overtook Hamilton for the lead of the race on Lap 25, breezing past the Brit.
Vettel held on to his lead for the rest of the race, but it was Bottas who put the pressure on Vettel by the final two laps, but Vettel fended off the Mercedes attack and made sure that the soft compound tyres he put on on Lap 18 made it all the way to the end of the race, showing not only his pure race pace and skill but also his brilliant tyre-management skills.
England 2018: Victorious in hostile territory
The 2018 battle saw Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton exchange wins for almost the entirety of the opening half of the season, and by the time racing got to Britain, Vettel led the Championship by one solitary point from Hamilton.
Hamilton took pole at his home race ahead of Vettel on Saturday, drawing first blood. But it was Vettel who made it count on Sunday as he got off to a stunning start to overtake Hamilton almost right off the line. Things got worse for Hamilton as he collided with Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen in the same lap as well as the German breezed into the lead.
Vettel was flying in Silverstone as he built a six-second gap to Bottas by Lap 11. A yellow flag saw him pit on Lap 21, though, and Bottas took the lead of the race. Another Safety Car on Lap 34 saw Vettel come in for his second stop, while Mercedes kept both Hamilton and Bottas out on track for track position. On fresher tyres, Vettel was eating into Bottas’ lead and passed the Finn for the lead of the race on Lap 47. He then cruised to victory, which was even sweeter given he did it at the home ground of his title rival.
Germany 2019: A charge through the field
2019 imposed a new challenge on Vettel. His long-time teammate and good friend Kimi Räikkönen had left Ferrari at the end of the 2018 season and was replaced by Sauber’s talented young driver Charles Leclerc. While Ferrari did have Vettel as their No. 1 driver, Leclerc showcased that he wasn’t going to be a pushover after putting in some stunning performances in the opening few races.
Even though Ferrari had a strong package, they were just not near Mercedes, and by the time racing got to Germany, Mercedes had won all of the opening ten races barring one, which Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won.
It was a wet weekend in Hockenheim, and even though Vettel was strong during the practice sessions, he started right from the back of the grid following an engine penalty. Racing got underway in wet conditions and Vettel, a master of the wet races, made up an incredible six places on the opening lap as the rest of the grid struggled with grip.
After Sergio Pérez spun off early, Vettel came in for an early pit stop under the Safety Car and re-joined in 18th place. He was back at his best, overtaking the field from the back in wet conditions, and as both Mercedes cars and his teammate crashed out due to driver errors in the wet conditions, Vettel charged through the field.
The wet conditions meant Vettel came in for four stops but still managed to catch the front pack and finished a stunning second, having started right at the back of the grid. In front of his home crowd, Vettel put in yet another overtaking masterclass from the back of the field, finishing just seven seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen, who started on the front row in second position.
Turkey 2020: Silver lining
2020 was Sebastian Vettel’s toughest season with the Scuderia and quite possibly his toughest season in the sport. Before the start of the COVID-hit delayed season, Ferrari had announced that they and Vettel would be parting ways after six years, which only added to Vettel’s woes. Ferrari had also gotten Leclerc to sign a long-term contract, which would have undoubtedly dented Vettel’s confidence. That they had a mediocre car that wasn’t able to fight for points made the season even worse for Vettel.
By the time racing got to Turkey, Vettel was 14th in the Drivers’ Championship with only 18 points, while his teammate was fifth with 85; it was quite clear that Vettel was struggling with the car and was low on confidence as well.
In Istanbul, Vettel and Lelerc both failed to make it to the final Qualifying session, and the German qualified 12th. It was yet another wet race, though, and Vettel once again showed why he was one of the all-time great wet-weather drivers.
While Racing Point’s Lance Stroll led from pole, the rest of the grid had a tough time getting the tyres up to temperature and struggled with grip as well. There was an incident going into Turn 1 on the opening lap which saw Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault spin off along with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
Being the wily old veteran he is, Vettel avoided all the carnage up ahead and judged his start to perfection. He was up to P3 by the end of the first lap. Despite driving a Ferrari that did not have the pace to stay up with the front runners, Vettel made sure he stayed within touch of those in front.
While Vettel was enjoying a strong race in the wet conditions, a slow pit-stop from Ferrari dropped him down to sixth from fourth. He was passed by his teammate Leclerc on Lap 41 for fourth place. It looked like Vettel was going to finish fourth as he remained in that position starting the final lap, but his teammate made a rookie error on the final lap, heading into the final few corners, which let Sergio Pérez past Leclerc for second and Vettel himself made it a double move on Leclerc, taking the final podium place.
It was Vettel’s first podium of the season. More importantly, though, it reminded all of his critics that, with the chips down, you could always count on Sebastian Vettel. To say that the conditions that weekend in Turkey were tricky would be an understatement, and almost every driver on the grid suffered from grip and tyre warm-up issues. It was Vettel, however, who put in a stellar wet-weather drive and made the most of the opportunities given to him.