Birthplace: Heppenheim, Germany
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Sebastian Vettel made astonishingly rapid and successful progress through the lower ranks of motorsport. In 2010 he became the youngest ever Formula One world champion and he has held on to the title ever since.
Vettel spent eight years in karts, winning the German Junior Karting Championship, Monaco Kart Cup and European Junior Karting Championship in 2001. The following year he was sixth in the Senior ICA Kart Championship and then moved into car racing.
He finished second in the 2003 Formula BMW Germany championship and was top rookie. The following year, aged 17, he emphatically won the title, taking 18 wins from 20 starts and 387 points from a maximum of 400.
The following season he was fifth in the Formula Three Euroseries. The championship was dominated by Lewis Hamilton and ASM – Vettel’s ASL team didn’t win a single race, though he was the top rookie.
Thanks to his BMW connections Vettel made his debut as an F1 tester for the Williams team. Still aged only 18, he had to ask his school teacher for time off to do the test.
The following year Vettel joined Paul di Resta at ASM but finished second to his team mate in the championship. A debut appearance in the World Series by Renault proved much more fruitful – Vettel won both races at Misano.
Nonetheless Vettel joined BMW’s F1 team as a test driver and became their Friday driver after Robert Kubica was promoted to the race team in Jacques Villeneuve’s place.
Vettel was fastest of all in Friday practice at his first weekend in Turkey, where not only did he also become the youngest driver to participate in a Grand Prix weekend (aged 19 years and 53 days), but he also collected a fine for speeding in the pit lane on the way to the track for the first time.
He began the 2007 season racing in World Series by Renault. But when Kubica was injured during the Canadian Grand Prix Vettel stood in for him at Indianapolis and finished eighth, becoming the youngest driver to score a championship point.
While running an excellent third in the wet Japanese Grand Prix Vettel collided with the driver in front of him during a safety car period – worst of all it was fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who had a potential victory in his sights. Vettel redeemed himself at the next race in China, again in wet conditions, where he finished fourth.
Even better followed in 2008, when Vettel dominated the wet Italian Grand Prix, taking pole position and leading almost all the way to win. He said afterwards:
In the race itself I was surprised – you’ve just taken the chequered flag in first the race is over, and you’ve won your first Grand Prix. To start with I didn’t understand and started thinking, “What do you say at a time like this?”
In the end my engineer, who’s a very quiet guy, came on the radio and told me that I’d just won the Italian Grand Prix. I turned on the radio and started talking very slowly and collectedly, thanking people.
It’s dumb – you work your whole life for a moment like this and when it finally happens, you don’t know where you are. But by the end of the slow-dowm lap it clicked and then I turned the radio back on again and screamed my thanks, this time in Italian.
It was the culmination of rapid progress by the team throughout the season. Vettel had often struggled to get beyond the first lap early in the year, but the arrival of the new STR3 chassis at Monte-Carlo followed later by an engine upgrade put the team in among the front runners.
By then Vettel had already been confirmed as David Coulthard’s replacement at Red Bull for 2009. But his second full season of F1 didn’t get off to a great start.
While running second at Melbourne he overstepped the mark in his attempt to defend his position from Kubica and the pair collided. The steward handed Vettel a grid penalty for the next round at Malaysia, where he also failed to score.
This was a setback at the beginning of a year which he ended as runner-up in the drivers’ championship. He won four times, including a dominant wet-weather victory at Shanghai, which echoed his maiden win at Monza.
Later in the season the RB5 was often the car to beat and Vettel added wins at Silverstone, Suzuka and Abu Dhabi. But more lost opportunities hampered his championship ambitions: a crash at Monaco, a collision with Kimi Raikkonen at the Hungaroring, and a mistake on the first lap while leading at Istanbul. A blown engine at Valencia (his second that weekend) hindered his chances further.
Red Bull carried their form into 2010 and Vettel should have won the first two races of the year. But he was hit with car problems while leading in Bahrain and Australia.
He did deliver a win in Malaysia but team mate Webber seized the initiative with a series of wins at mid-season. Vettel was frustrated not just by car problems, but also some costly mistakes. He collided with Webber at Istanbul and crashed into Jenson Button at Spa-Francorchamps.
But he was rarely off the front row of the grid and started ten of the 19 races from pole position. Late in the season he hit a rich vein of form, winning in Japan and Brazil and leading until his engine blew in Korea.
Even so he was the third-ranked title contender heading into the season finale at Abu Dhabi. But as rivals Webber and Alonso hit trouble Vettel claimed his fifth win of the year to snatch the championship in a dramatic turn-around.
Shortly before the 2011 season began Vettel extended his contract with Red Bull until the end of 2014.
The RB7 was the class of the field once again and this time Vettel used it to exert crushing superiority over his rivals. From 19 races he set pole position 15 times – a new record – and won 11 races. He wrapped up the championship with four races to spare.
Vettel comprehensively out-classed team mate Webber, who scored a single win in the final race in Brazil as Vettel suffered a rare gearbox failure. This and a first-lap retirement in Abu Dhabi following a puncture were just about the only things that went wrong for Vettel as he became the first driver since Fernando Alonso in 2006 to win back-to-back world championship titles.
Vettel successfully defended his title again in 2012 after a season-long battle with Alonso.
Changes in the technical rules left Red Bull fighting a rearguard action in the opening races. Second for Vettel in the season-opener in Melbourne and victory in round four got the year off to a promising start.
But while Red Bull tried to make progress with their RB8 Vettel slipped behind in the title battle and Alonso seized the initiative. A potential win in Valencia was lost due to alternator failure. At other tracks Webber had clearly got to grips with the new car more quickly.
Another alternator failure in Italy cost him points in a race he had already compromised by picking up a penalty while dicing with Alonso. He made a similar mistake with Button in Germany.
But Vettel’s season began to turn around after the summer break. A strong drive in Belgium produced a useful second pace finish.
He collected victory in Singapore after Hamilton retired in front of him. That began a sequence of races in which he was never headed, winning four times in a row.
Having taken the championship lead from Alonso, Vettel’s run of success faltered. He was sent to the back of the grid for a technical infringement in Abu Dhabi but impressively recovered to finish on the podium. Hamilton pinched victory off him in America, and he went into the final round of the championship with a 13-point margin over Alonso.
This proved to be just enough after a tense final round at Interlagos in which Vettel was knocked into a spin on lap one and spent the rest of the race with a damaged car. He salvaged sixth place while Alonso could only manage second, which was sufficient for him to keep hold of the championship.
Vettel extended his run of championships in 2013 with his fourth victory in a row.
The opening rounds of the championship promised a closely-fought campaign, Vettel sharing wins with Alonso and Raikkonen. Mercedes also started the season strongly, their drivers keeping Vettel from pole position more often than not in the first half of the championships.
But regular podium finishes kept Vettel ahead in the points. They included a controversial win in Malaysia, where he defied his team’s order for him to stay behind Webber and passed his team mate in the final stint.
After the summer break, which also coincided with a mid-season change in tyre construction which helped Red Bull, Vettel reeled off six consecutive race wins which decided the outcome of the title with three races to go. He kept on winning until the end of the season, setting a new record by taking nine consecutive grand prix victories.
Vettel’s title run and race-winning streak came to an end following a major change in the technical regulations. The switch to V6 hybrid turbo engines was not one that Red Bull, and in particular its engine supplier Renault, was well-prepared for.
However Vettel also struggled to get the best out of the RB11. New team mate Daniel Ricciardo fared much better, and on the occasions when the dominant Mercedes cars were beatable it was he, not Vettel, who capitalised.
Vettel slipped to fifth in the championship, and his mounting frustration led him to a major career change. At the Japanese Grand Prix Red Bull announced the pair would part ways, and Vettel was eventually confirmed to be heading to Ferrari, as a replacement for Alonso.
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