Five days before we meet, Sebastian Vettel won his fourth F1 world championship. On… the… trot. His mood, at the risk of stating the obvious, is good. He mucks about a bit. Not enough to waste his unbelievably precious contractually obliged sponsor time, but just enough to soften the brittle atmosphere permeating the retinues that surround him. Even allowing for the factor that people are more likely to laugh at your jokes when you’re a four-time world champion, Vettel is funny and good company and in no way intimidating.
But beneath the relaxed sunniness lurks a slight bewilderment. He’s just 26, which means in his early grands prix he was racing against his boyhood heroes in their later careers. And now he’s beaten almost all their achievements. The paradox frets away at him: his logical mind knows he can now be counted among the all-time greats, and yet he just doesn’t feel that way. Part of him just feels like a kid, a lucky newcomer. Perhaps he wants to stay like that, just to avoid the crushing weight of expectation. Schumacher won seven championships to Vettel’s four, and while no one is betting against his overtaking that tally, Vettel himself would far rather avoid the issue by politely claiming to be living in the moment. Anyway, it’s all arid territory for interviews, because pretty well any and all questions about his motor racing have been asked a million times before.
No bother. I’m not here to ask him about the day job. It’s his moonlighting for Infiniti that interests us today. The business card, if he actually had one, would read “Infiniti Director of Performance”. The job spec is to drive Infinitis during their development and suggest how they might be made better for the driver.
Photography: Mark Bramley
This feature was originally published in the 2013 Awards issue of Top Gear magazine