Sebastian Vettel’s emotional goodbye worthy of one of F1’s greats

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Before stepping into a Formula 1 car for the last time before a Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel took a tour of the Aston Martin garage to thank each and every mechanic. It was a simple gesture, but one that meant a lot to his colleagues and that encapsulated the character of the man at the heart of it all.

On the grid, Vettel’s fellow drivers lined up side by side to give him a guard of honor as he returned to his car after the UAE national anthem, underscoring the respect everyone has for him.

Then, just before the start of the race, Fernando Alonso, who was once Vettel’s nemesis on the track when they were fighting for the title ten years ago, borrows the Aston Martin’s cockpit to wish his old rival good luck. He started a place behind Vettel on the grid and also told the four-time world champion that he would not try to pass him on the first lap.

“I didn’t want to attack Seb,” Alonso told reporters after the race. “I just wanted to do a few laps behind him and enjoy it.”

Fifty-seven laps later, Vettel crossed the finish line for the last time, earning a single point in tenth. But the result didn’t matter.

On Sunday night in Abu Dhabi, Vettel accomplished something far more remarkable than any win on track – he left F1 as one of the sport’s most respected and loved drivers.

The goodwill shown towards Vettel from all corners of the paddock at various points throughout the weekend underscored the German’s popularity, which is far greater today than it was when he won his fourth and final world title in 2013.

On the Thursday before the race, another former rival, Lewis Hamilton, organized a dinner for all 20 drivers in Abu Dhabi to say goodbye to Vettel in a private and relaxed setting. The seven-time world champion, who also took up the bill, said it was one of his most memorable evenings in F1.

“I think it was really important, so I asked the group in Mexico if they would be willing to do dinner to say goodbye to Seb,” Hamilton said.

“We haven’t had dinner in China for years [2016], it was the best evening. Everyone laughed so much, great stories, Seb is a great leader.

“He gave a great speech and really tried to share some of the experiences he’s had over those years. Especially the younger guys because they are the future.”

To mark his final race, Vettel also organized a track run on Saturday night and invited everyone in the F1 paddock to take a final lap with him. Hundreds attended so the huge supply of farewell t-shirts printed by F1 to commemorate Vettel’s final race ran out in all sizes.

Vettel, 35, advised attendees to “run at your own pace and take it easy” before concluding a short speech by saying: “Thank you Formula 1 for all the years and thank you all for being… got together. I thought it would be a nice idea to invite everyone.”

Vettel’s father Norbert, wife Hanna and three children completed the lap in the back of the flatbed truck normally used for the drivers’ parade before the race. A jubilant Norbert Vettel put in nearly as much energy as the runners as he danced to music blaring from the circuit loudspeakers, encouraging those on the track to keep up the pace.

But on Sunday night after the race, Vettel said he felt “empty”. Four days at the Abu Dhabi track would never do justice to such a rich career spanning 16 seasons. The full impact of the emotion had yet to seep in.

“It’s strange,” he said after the race. “Obviously the exhaustion is setting in a bit, it’s been a busy weekend.

“I think it’s going to hit me at some point — probably when I go to bed tonight or tomorrow morning.”

With a one-stop strategy that didn’t produce the result he was hoping for, Vettel ended up going wheel-to-wheel with 15 of the 20 riders on the track. He emerged victorious in the vast majority of those fights, and while he narrowly snuck into the points, the nature of his ride was befitting of a four-time champion. At the finish line, he added an extra point to the 3,097 points he had accumulated in his previous 298 races and celebrated in style with a series of pit lane donuts.

But as impressive as Vettel’s stats are, including the fact that he became the youngest champion in the sport’s history in 2010, his career is essentially about far more than numbers.

During his four-year dominance at Red Bull between 2010 and 2013, Vettel was a formidable competitor and often looked unbeatable. His success garnered him a legion of fans, but he wasn’t without controversy.

After a collision at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix while fighting for the lead with his team-mate Mark Webber, the mood in the team tended to change. Vettel, with the support of Red Bull’s adviser Helmut Marko, appeared entitled and testy at times – a perception confirmed when he ignored team orders to finish second at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix by passing Webber with a handful of laps remaining .

What was never in doubt in the final years of F1’s gritty V8 era was Vettel’s ability to get the most out of the car. At the end of 2013, when he was just 26 years old, he looked like the most likely driver to challenge Michael Schumacher’s record seven world titles. But success dried up suddenly in 2014 when a change in engine regulations saw Hamilton and Mercedes take over as the dominant force in F1, while Vettel faced an internal threat from Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull.

A move to Ferrari in 2015 seemed like the right move at the right time, but the combination of team and driver never really clicked. He arrived hoping to emulate the glory years of his hero Schumacher, but ultimately fell far short.

Ferrari’s choppy lead was one reason – the Italian team cycled through four team bosses during Vettel’s time at Maranello – but he also made mistakes, notably falling from the lead at the turning point of the 2018 German Grand Prix in a previously tight Championship fight with Hamilton.

Although there were no further championship successes for the rest of his career, Vettel clearly matured away from the racetrack. In his 30s and after becoming a father he became much more thoughtful and by the time he left Ferrari for Aston Martin in late 2020 his focus had broadened to topics outside of F1, particularly the environment.

Vettel wore a T-shirt with a picture of the Earth from space and the words “Invitation” in his last race. In doing so, he broke the FIA’s rule of wearing nothing but approved racing apparel on the grid before a Grand Prix, but gave a final signal as an F1 driver to encourage the sport and its fans to take action against the threat of climate change .

The hypocrisy of championing green values ​​while driving a race car in 22 far flung locations around the globe has not escaped Vettel and was one of the factors that led to his decision to retire. Nonetheless, his determination to push environmental messages has put pressure on the sport to deliver on its promise to become carbon neutral and develop zero-carbon fuels, even though both goals are several years away.

“There are far bigger and more important things than going in circles, but obviously we love it,” said Vettel. “If we can transfer some of those important values ​​through that, I think that’s really great and that’s why I think the last two years have been great for me.”

As final as Vettel’s departure looked on Sunday, it’s still in doubt whether he’ll return to F1 in the future. Many in the sport, including Hamilton, believe he could yet make a comeback as a driver – perhaps when German car giant Audi enters Formula One in 2026 – and many others see him fitting into a leadership role within a team or within Formula One itself.

But what Vettel has made clear is that none of this will happen until he’s had a chance to spend some time at home, relaxing with his family and reflecting on his phenomenal career.

“I’ve had a great time over the years and was happy about successes, winning championships, so from a sporting point of view it was huge,” said Vettel on Sunday evening in Abu Dhabi. “But I’ve also been able to grow and mature in a lot of ways and think about a lot of things.

“It’s always been the same rhythm from season to season, but nice and for me I’m very happy that I’ve been able to build so much off the track. I’ve found a partner – now a wife – who I very much, I’m after so many Still very much in love over the years We have three children I’m looking forward to spending more time at home with the dog.

“So things that might sound really boring, but I’ve been building alongside racing and hopefully will be able to enjoy them. Then we’ll see what happens, I’m unsettled in a lot of ways and interesting in a lot of things, so give those a little more space.” Sebastian Vettel’s emotional goodbye worthy of one of F1’s greats

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