Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel on Sunday retired from Formula One in a reflective mood after finishing 10th in his farewell race at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 35-year-old father-of-three, who said he wants to depart the sport to spend more time with his family and do other things, scored a solitary point for his Aston Martin team in a frustrating strategic race.
“I enjoyed the race, it was a bit of a different warm-up to get into it, but once the lights went off it was full-on race mode,” he said, referring to the celebrations he experienced before the start.
After 15 years, 299 race starts (from 300 entries) with BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin, he heads into retirement with four drivers’ world titles, 53 race wins, 57 pole positions and a chorus of tributes ringing in his ears.
More than that, as most paddock observers pointed out, he conducted himself with a real sense of humanity, mixing a mischievous sense of fun with a serious appreciation of his responsibilities as a role model with a social conscious.
“I feel a bit empty,” he said. “It’s been a big weekend. The last two years have been disappointing, but there are more important things in life.”
“It’s a huge privilege to be in the position I’m in. I hope I can pass this on to the other drivers — the responsibility. There’re many far bigger and more important things in life than racing in circles,” he said.
Many who followed his progress from cheeky baby-faced “assassin” blessed with speed, a gift for languages and a love of English humor to urbane and thoughtful long-haired leader of good causes would be sad to see him go.
As he stood and underwent his umpteenth interview in good humor, he turned and smiled to a young rival standing beside him.
At just 23, the usually lively Lando Norris of McLaren is seen as a star of the future, but stood in respectful quiet as the 35-year-old German spoke.
“I think the important thing is nowadays it’s not just what you do on track, but off track too,” he said. “The influence you can have. I’m more shy than Seb, but I will learn to speak the truth and my opinions.”
“I am lucky to race alongside one of the greatest in F1. It’s been a privilege and I’ve learnt from him,” he added.
It was a widely repeated sentiment.
“Out of all the drivers that I’ve raced with, Seb was the first one to stand by me and ‘take the knee’ with me,” Lewis Hamilton said. “He is the first one to go out of his way to fight for things he cares about.”
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