When Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement at the end of this Formula 1 season last week, it caused regret throughout the paddock. Many fellow drivers congratulated the German on his unique career and noted that Formula 1 would miss him not just in sporting capacity. Hamilton says he saw the retirement coming some time ago.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, for example, said when asked if he would remember Sebastian Vettel more as a person than as a driver: “Yes, one hundred percent.”
“I kind of knew it was coming. Because there were hints, but the implementation is another thing,” he comments on the retirement announcement, adding, “It saddens me first of course that he’s quitting.”
“When I talk about the journey I’ve had in this sport, which I’ve often found to be relatively lonely, I would say he’s one of the few people who made sure I didn’t feel lonely. He has stood by me in many ways,” the seven-time world champion recalls.
“I remember the press conference at Magny Cours in 2007 and how he was very, very open during the drivers’ briefing. I knew then that he would be a strong personality in this sport. He put others before himself and was so brave to speak his mind and stand up for what he believes in.”
“We talk about legends in our sport. I don’t really like that title, to be honest,” Hamilton admits. “But I think he is one of the greatest people we have seen in this sport. And we need more like him.”
Sad to lose “an ally within the sport”, Hamilton added: “But I know he will do great things outside the sport. And I hope we will always be friends. I hope we can do other things together outside of racing.”
As for their encounters on the track, the British driver remembers above all that Vettel was “just unbelievably fast” adding:
“He’s very, very intelligent. A very good engineer, I think. Very, very precise on the track.”
“He was just a great, all-round competitor. Very fair, but also very strong and determined on the track. He was never one to blame others for mistakes. He always raised his hand and said it was his fault, which I always thought was honourable.” perhaps Hamilton was kind enough to ignore the Baku incident some years ago.
Asked how their relationship has changed over the years, Hamilton says:
“I think when you’re focused on winning championships, of course when we were younger we didn’t have time to stop and talk about what we were doing in our own lives or what was important to us.”
“And so over time we started seeing each other, taking those bold steps and standing up for things we believe in. He’s been very supportive. I think I supported him too and realised that we have a lot more in common than just the passion for driving.”
“He was the one who really stepped into the uncomfortable light and tried to do something with the platform that we have. And I think that to me is why he is so different from all the other drivers that have been here. Then as now.”
Still, Vettel himself insists it was time to make way. “I think we all have a limit,” says the German. “It’s good that there is new talent. They are doing well. And the time, today and tomorrow, is theirs. That’s the way it is.”
“We all have our time. And I think the most important thing is to make the most of it and enjoy it and then move on and make way for the next ones.”
Even more than the victories and trophies, for him “the memories, the emotions, the ups and downs, the people I’ve met,” Vettel continues, “and of course Lewis is one of the central figures in the last years.”
“The friends I’ve made, they stay. It would be a much harder decision to give all that up and lose all those people. I won’t see them as regularly as I do now, of course. But it’s the friendships, the people and the relationships that stay.”