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David Coulthard analyses Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 90 seconds (UK users only)

BBC F1 co-commentator David Coulthard knows Sebastian Vettel well as a former rival and in his position as a consultant to the German's Red Bull team.

As the youngest champion in Formula 1 history prepares to start the defence of his title in Australia on Sunday, Coulthard analyses the 23-year-old's status in F1.

WILL WINNING THE TITLE MAKE VETTEL A BETTER DRIVER?

"Drivers go through various stages in their career. Winning the title will move Vettel out of the first one - when, if you like, you're young and somewhat naive and everything's new and exciting and you're driving on your instincts - into the next one, when you're established and starting to mature.

Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel chat with David Coulthard
Coulthard (right) knows Webber and Vettel well as team-mates and rivals

"Drivers are very young when they come into F1 these days - and Sebastian was no exception; he made his debut at 19. So they have not had the chance to develop fully into adult life before being put under the spotlight of the media and public, and all the adulation that comes with that.

"I remember people saying to me: 'Don't change.' But the reality is you have to change. Your environment changes, you're growing as an individual, you develop tastes.

"That's a long-winded way of saying what I've been impressed with about Sebastian is how inwardly calm and confident he is without being arrogant.

"If you compare him to Michael Schumacher, Michael was often pigeon-holed as having what appeared to be an arrogant persona. At no time has Seb displayed that in his short time in F1.

"Whether that's the way he's wired, the way he's been brought up, we'll find out in time. But I would be surprised if he became a slightly distant and aloof champion.

"He has achieved a goal and a milestone in his life and reset the counter and is now going to try to do it again, in the same way as Fernando Alonso has always had the same approach to his racing, whether he was at Minardi, Renault, McLaren or Ferrari.

"Fernando has a steel edge to him - his whole demeanour shouts: 'Don't mess with me, otherwise I'll use all the tools at my disposal to screw you back.' But if you don't poke him, he doesn't come looking for trouble.

"I've always respected his position, even when it was easy to give him a bashing when it was Lewis and him in the same team and it was the Brit and the 'nasty Spaniard'.

"You've got to respect someone's position if they're consistent in what they ask for and how they react. I think that's a quality not a negative and it's one Vettel has, too."

HOW DOES VETTEL APPROACH HIS RACING?

"He keeps his private life very private. That's a conscious decision - he's a racing driver, he comes to the track and does his racing and when he's not at the track he does whatever else it is he does.

"He's very clear on what he wants and how he expects things to be, but equally if it's explained to him that's not the way it's going to be, then he moves on. He fights the battles he can win and steps over the ones that are just going to use energy.

"So there's a high degree of intelligence and social skills there that I'm hoping will make him a very good ongoing champion and representative of the sport.

"It should also ensure he can really enjoy this period of his life because the demands on his time will increase as he gets more and more recognised."

WILL HE MAKE FEWER MISTAKES THAN IN 2011?

"Irrespective of whether he'd won the championship or not, you've got to hope you make fewer mistakes as you go through life.

"Inevitably, when your job is balancing a racing car on the limits of adhesion, then occasionally you will get that wrong.

"Alonso hasn't made a great deal of mistakes in his career but he dropped it in his McLaren year in Japan and he dropped it in Spa last year while running all alone.

"These guys will make mistakes. They are only human.

Sebastian Vettel indicates he believes his Turkish Grand Prix crash with Mark Webber was his team-mate's fault
The infamous 'nutter' sign after Turkey crash - would Vettel do this again?

"What will be telling is how Vettel deals with the aftermath - such as walking away doing the 'nutter' symbol after he and Mark Webber crashed into each other in Turkey. I think Seb would do that differently next time around having lived through that.

"You've got to imagine there has to be something that clicks within you when you've achieved your goal and won a world championship - a tick against the inner peace box.

"I'm curious to see how he reacts. I'm a fan not because I have an association with the team, but because he shows a level of respect for the sport but equally he knows it's his journey and he has to do it himself without getting a leg-up."

WHAT ARE VETTEL'S F1 AMBITIONS?

"It's interesting, listening to some of the things he says, that he clearly wants to set new statistical records. Often during the race he will ask what the fastest lap time is so he can better it despite no points being on offer."

Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher
Vettel and Schumacher have become good friends

"Whether that is about statistics or ego is an open question, but I think it's more about statistics. I think he's entirely comfortable in his own skin.

"I've read that he has his sights on beating Schumacher's records. He's never come out and said that, but I suspect that's true. Look at the way he's going after fastest laps.

"Unless he turns around and says that's not the case, we have to presume he's doing it for the pleasure of having the fastest lap, and having it down in the record books."

HOW ULTIMATELY GOOD IS HE?

"This is one of the things we're going to find out - is he has good as Hamilton, is he as good as Alonso? Well, that remains to be seen. I think it's a valid question and it has to be asked.

"So far, in terms of top-line drivers, Vettel has only been up against Mark Webber in equal equipment.

"Mark had a long journey to a front-running car - from Minardi to Jaguar to Williams before going to Red Bull, where he was involved in building the team up to where it is today.

Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso
Vettel beat Hamilton and Alonso last year - but is he better than them?

"I think that took the wind out of Mark's sails a bit. And when he got a winning car, he was already 33 and had a lot of other stuff going on in his life, such as being an investor in a GP3 team.

"The difference between Vettel and Webber last season was on average about a 10th of a second in qualifying, which is absolutely nothing. And you have to remember that Mark was never able to achieve the same weight distribution in the car for qualifying because he is a bigger, heavier guy.

"If Mark could have got the weight to absolutely the right position, it could have been a 10th the other way. And track position being king, suddenly the whole balance of power changes.

"You've got two guys with potentially equal speed, one with the responsibilities that you assume through life and the other starting his journey and presumably with fewer commitments away from the track.

"If he was up against Mark five years ago without all the other stuff going on, then maybe Mark would have walked away with the championship.

"He did lead it for most of the season, and it's such a fine line between success and failure.

"So I think Seb was allowed a comfort zone - because of his natural speed and his youth.

"Let's wait and see. I just hope we get the chance to see a real good wheel-to-wheel battle between them and Fernando and Lewis while they're all at their peak.

"Seb is very much at the beginning of his career. He is the youngest world champion, a class driver, a great ambassador for the sport. He has, in many ways, rebuilt some of the bridges that were damaged during Michael's time as a German world champion.

"He's very special. I'm a fan. He's a very level-headed young racer, and he's at an exceptionally high level. But I think it's fair to say in the fullness of time we'll be able to answer more questions."



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see also
Vettel commits future to Red Bull
14 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Webber expects fight with Ferrari
10 Mar 11 |  Formula One


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