Seb’s seat time with Driveway editor Keith Morgan clearly paid off as he went on to take his fourth straight championship…
Four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel has been driving since 1991 – 20 years less than yours truly.
The Infiniti-Red Bull Racing Team lead man was only three-and-half years old when he took the wheel of a kart in his native Germany. He began racing four years later at the ripe old age of eight. He has a few years under his safety harness but he’s always up to learn from his elders.
Last year, the 26-year-old wunderkind showed off his driving skills to me and buddy Brian Makse – a man also with racing pedigree – in an Infiniti FX50 Vettel Edition FX on the Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France. We both figured his cornering needed work.
Seb’s seat time with us clearly paid off as thereafter he won his fourth straight championship.
It came as no surprise then that he would jump at the opportunity to take the wheel again with alongside me. Brian wasn’t available but I headed here to the Canadian Tire Motorsport in Ontario to work the magic again. The affable young guy has had a tough start to the F1 season, battling with the new hybrid technology.
I put in some time first with retired F1 driver and now ace BBC TV F1 commentator David Coulthard on an auto cross track, laid out in the shape of the Infiniti logo. As I finished my turn at the wheel of the Infiniti Q50, the Scot sent me off to Seb with the words: “No cones were hurt in this filming…”
I’ll take that as a compliment for my error-free drive.
Buckled up in another Q50S ($47,450), I wondered if Seb would demonstrate an improved cornering technique as we did a hot lap together around the reputedly fast 3.95-kilometre track. He greeted me warmly, I thanked him for a hat he had kindly autographed, which I recently auctioned off. He was pleased to hear it had raised hundreds of dollars to help send local leukemia-stricken teen Ryan Fagnan and his family on a last vacation, shortly before he died.
We roared out of the pit lane through the first turn and continued to accelerate downhill – close to 170 km/h – towards the second turn. Locals told me the stretch to the turn features a number of camber changes down to the second turn, scene of most of the track’s fatal crashes. Gulp.
Obviously, nobody had cautioned him as he whipped the family sedan effortlessly round, talking about how he relaxed as we drove. Movies with happy endings apparently. Ah, the same conclusions he likes to F1 races.
“There haven’t been to many of those lately,” he joked, pressing harder on the metal perhaps to make a point.
As Infiniti Director of Performance, Vettel is truly playing a role in the development of future road products, rather than merely offering his name as a celebrity endorsement. He talked enthusiastically about the new compact, performance-oriented Q30, which should see the light late next year in Europe and a little later in Canada.
The 328-horsepower 3.7-litre V6 Q50S we were riding in also benefitted from a little of his input. He’s clearly looking forward to Infiniti giving the go ahead to the Q50 Eau Rouge concept, which features the Nissan GT-R’s growling 560-horsepower twin-turbo V6.
Another corner loomed and I leaned into the door, as he barely slowed from the rapid pace we had zipped along the straight.
“Your cornering has improved since last year,” I offered cheekily.
“Thank you, I think I’ve got the apexes about right,” he grinned. Hours earlier, it’s doubtful he had even heard of the tricky track, never mind driven it.
Harkening back to his references to happy endings, I reminded him that after driving with me last year he had enjoyed nothing but success.
“That’s right… it’s all down to you,” he said with what I believed was a thoroughly genuine smile of appreciation.
The end was nigh. Time flies when you are having fun: our hot lap and friendly chat took less than four minutes.
Last Sunday, he enjoyed only his second podium finish of the year taking third place at the Montreal Grand Prix. You’re welcome, Seb.
Same time next year, in the Eau Rouge?
Videos of my day with Sebastian Vettel and David Coulthard can be viewed on our Driveway YouTube channel.