515 days have passed since Sebastian Vettel last graced the top step of the Formula 1 podium, while it has been three years since he racked up multiple wins in the same season.
For a driver who shot to stardom after taking a stunning breakthrough victory for Toro Rosso at a wet Italian GP in 2008 before going on to claim four successive world titles between 2010-2013 with the third-highest grand prix wins of all time, it is a remarkable statistic.
But after leaving Ferrari having ultimately failed in his bid to deliver the Scuderia a long-awaited championship title, and having endured a subsequent spiral of poor form interspersed by some well-documented high-profile errors, Vettel is trying something new on his path to redemption.
Aston Martin has set some ambitious targets following its rebrand from Racing Point, with owner Lawrence Stroll aiming to establish his team as world champions in the coming years. It is a project that has great appeal for Vettel, and one that the team believes will help the 33-year-old German to rediscover his past spark and mojo.
“We can offer him an environment in which racing is fun again, in which it is a pleasure to be in Formula 1,” Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer said in a recent interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “That’s exactly why most of us do this job. He’ll get the best out of us and we get the best out of him.”
Szfanauer noted that Vettel brings a champion’s mentality to the team which finished fourth in the constructors’ championship in 2020 and won its first grand prix at the Sakhir race in Bahrain, underlying the competitiveness of its RP20 car that the team will carry over into this season.
He also said the Aston Martin team has discovered their new signing is like “having a performance engineer behind the wheel”, with Vettel quick to digest key new information.
The four-time world champion visited the team’s Silverstone headquarters for the first time last month and immediately made an impression by making suggestions to help direct engineers on what data he needs to guide the 2021 car’s set-up, something Aston Martin believes can also benefit teammate Lance Stroll, who took his first pole position and two podium finishes last year.
“We can still learn so much from Seb and improve as a result,” Szafnauer explained. “Lance can also benefit from him. It’s the same the other way round. Lance is very talented and fast. Together, they can take our team to a higher level.
“We want to make the most of the races including winning. That’s what it’s all about for us & that’s what Sebastian is all about. Our racing philosophies are 100 % the same. Therefore, we will work very well together to optimise our performance.”
And Vettel already appears to be thriving in his new environment amid the smaller set-up and operation at Aston Martin, something he also experienced during his Toro Rosso days.
“There will be much more to come,” Szafnauer said. “Sebastian has only been with us for a few days and already in this short period, he has given us this useful feedback. And he hasn’t even driven our car yet!
“Sebastian is already pushing us. He is very inquisitive. He keeps asking us: why do you do it that way, and why not differently? In just two days he had so many questions.
“He is a very good fit for us. We have the same philosophy on how we want to race. For us, performance is the top priority. We strive to have the fastest car possible. That also applies to other areas, like with the pit crew.
“Seb also shares his experiences – that is exactly what we need. We want to turn over every stone to improve our performance so that in March we can say that we have made the best of our possibilities. Both Seb and us as a team. I see no lack of motivation.”
Szfanauer insists Aston Martin’s aim for 2021 has to be finishing third, and he sees no reason why the team cannot compete for more victories with Vettel at the wheel.
“We want to start the season like we left off the last,” he added. “We had the third-fastest car for a long time but we only finished fourth, behind McLaren. We were unlucky. We need more consistency in scoring and if we can do that, we can finish third. That has to be our realistic goal.
“I think we should get out of the starting blocks quickly and fight for podium places. If things go in our direction, like in Bahrain or Turkey, we should be able to put the car on pole position and have the chance of a few race wins.”