x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Vettel: back to work for the champion in Abu Dhabi

The German is testing tyres at Yas Marina Circuit as thoughts already turn to defending the title next year.

Stairway to success: Sebastian Vettel gets back behind the wheel in Abu Dhabi today.
Stairway to success: Sebastian Vettel gets back behind the wheel in Abu Dhabi today.

You would think that after achieving your dream goal in life that you would be allowed a little while to put up your feet and bask in the satisfaction of what you have done.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for Sebastian Vettel, who just five days after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become the youngest world champion in Formula One history will get back behind the wheel of his Red Bull-Renault today for a test session at Yas Marina Circuit.

The 23-year-old German will take part in a two-day test as he and the other drivers and teams on the grid get a first look at the Pirelli tyres that they will be racing on next season.

The test is the first step towards preparing for the 2011 campaign. But speaking yesterday at a Puma promotional event in Abu Dhabi, he said he is still trying to absorb what he has achieved.

"It has been my dream and my target in life and knowing now that I have achieved that and still have some time in front of me is a very nice feeling," he said.

"It is a weight off my shoulders. But very soon I will be looking forward to next season and motivating again to keep the challenge up."

For now, he said, the team is trying to enjoy the success of the championship season ahead of wind-tunnel testing at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes, England once they return from Abu Dhabi.

That is when he will feel the next season coming, he said, and "we will focus on next year's car … and trying to defend our title".

He added: "The rules change again with new tyres next year and no one knows how they are going to be yet, so it is difficult to assume how strong we are going to be next year.

"The target is to be at the top again, and with everyone trying to hunt and chase you down it is not getting easier."

Today's testing, which is behind closed doors at Yas Marina, is a chance for Vettel and Red Bull to make their own judgements on the Pirelli tyres.

The Italian manufacturers are replacing Bridgestone, who left the sport after last week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Vettel believes that the work he will be doing in Abu Dhabi today and tomorrow is important.

"We don't know if the car will be fast on the new tyres," he said. "Then we will try and take as much of the experience from the test and put it inside the simulator."

The 2011 season does not begin until March, in Bahrain, but Vettel is not expecting much of a break between now and then.

He said: "Testing starts already in the beginning of February, and in January you are spending the first couple of weeks with the team driving the simulator".

He added: "Just before Christmas I will have things to do with the press and a lot of appearances, so I do not think that I will have too much time."

As to how he will unwind when he does get the opportunity, he said: "Everyone has their own ways. Me, nothing special, I just enjoy the time with friends and family at home and just be happy for a while if you don't see a car or a race track."

Vettel will be able to look back on a remarkable season in which the only time he led the championship was after the last race.

He shared the lead with teammate Mark Webber after the sixth round, in Monaco, but while Webber, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and the McLaren-Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button all took their turn at the front, a mixture of bad luck, unreliability and driver error meant Vettel was always playing catch-up.

His triumph in Abu Dhabi, coupled with Alonso and Webber finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, meant he topped the standings when it mattered most, and left him to reflect on a roller-coaster year.

"It was a long journey with ups and downs, highlights and races we didn't like too much, but that is part of the game," he said. "To come here and to win the championship here I am very happy."

It had not looked good for Vettel three weeks ago as his engine blew up late in the Korean Grand Prix, while he was leading.

He looked to be realistically out of the title reckoning, 25 points behind Alonso and 14 off Webber with just two races and 50 points left to be won.

Keeping an open mind and remaining optimistic were vital, Vettel said, to the reversal in fortune that saw him win in Brazil and in Abu Dhabi.

He said he understood immediately what sort of trouble he was in after the breakdown in Korea. "Of course you know what it means and the points you don't score. But still you can see you have two races to go and it was still possible.

"The most important thing this was season was to always keep believing especially when things were not looking too good, when we had to retire when the car broke down and the other guys were scoring big points.

"I was supported a lot by the team and the guys who kept believing me and made it easier for me to keep believing, and I think that was one of the most important things - just not losing your target.

"Two races to go we were 25 points behind the leader, and after Brazil it was looking better than before Brazil, so the key was to keep believing."

Abu Dhabi is likely always to have a place close to Vettel's heart, now that it is the location of his first world title success. But he is also extremely fond of the Yas Marina Circuit itself.

He won the inaugural race at Yas last year, and repeating the feat last Sunday means he remains the only F1 driver to know what victory there feels like. That is something he aims to keep going in the years to come.

"I love the [Yas Marina] circuit," he said. "It is the second time I have won here. Obviously, we have only been here twice, so I will try and keep my record up as long as I am in Formula One.

"It just suits me. It is different to other tracks and it is quite a difficult track with tricky corners, so it is quite a big challenge.

"Yes, it seems like I have liked it pretty good for the last two years, and also the car worked fine both times. So together the package always seemed to be right."

Vettel's success completed a perfect year for Red Bull.

The team founded in 2005 sealed their first constructors' title in Brazil the week before.

He said of the team: "We were quickest from the beginning to the end so that is something we can proud of and we hope to continue the same way next year."

Next year's work starts today in front of empty grandstands at Yas Marina, but you can be sure that Vettel will be pushing himself hard on the first step of his championship defence.

gcaygill@thenational.ae