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Sebastian Vettel at a crossroads, Mark Webber says

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Sebastian Vettel is certainly at a junction in his life emotionally, says former teammate Mark Webber. But the retired Red Bull Racing driver says he’s sure that the 32-year-old German will continue to drive in Formula One beyond 2019.

Speaking earlier this week during an interview at the Knockhill Racing Circuit in Fife, Scotland, Webber – the 42-year-old veteran of a dozen F1 seasons with Red Bull and two in the World Endurance Championship with Porsche – said that Vettel’s mid-life crisis is normal for men his age.

“Something like this only happens once,” Webber said. “You’re in your Formula One career, you get married, you’ve got children and you have all of those things. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc aren’t waking up with things like that on their minds.

“Clearly, his (Vettel’s) priorities are open to change.”

Vettel, who qualified his Ferrari sixth for Sunday’s British Grand Prix behind the Mercedes front row of pole sitter Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton (his Ferrari teammate Leclerc will go off third and Verstappen starts fourth for Red Bull with his Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly fifth), has been off his feed since the Canadian Grand Prix when a questionable penalty robbed him of victory.

Ever since, he hasn’t seemed to be terribly concerned that his younger teammate is consistently outpacing him. In fact, during a TV interview following a qualifying session recently, he was asked what he could do about it and he replied: “Retire.”

“He’s focusing on other things,” Webber said. “That’s for sure. But when all is said and done, I also think he’s focusing massively on his racing and I still think he will race next year. If Ferrari do get that car to run quicker, he will want to be there for those days. Fernando left too early and look what happened?”

Alonso stopped driving for McLaren just before it found its legs. New driver Lando Norris and veteran Carlos Sainz are now both qualifying regularly in or near the top ten.

Talking about Mercedes’ dominance in recent years, Webber said it’s always been the case in F1.

“We had the McLaren years, then the Red Bull years and now the Mercedes years – which have gone on a little longer than everyone would like,” he said. “When Toto Wolff meets Lewis Hamilton meets the Brixworth engine department, it’s a big problem because they are all highly motivated, they keep reinventing their motivation and they do not rest on past trophies.

“They are serial winners and they want to keep winning.”

Webber said its good to see others win, though.

“For the good of the sport, for the entertainment, for the fans, for the viewers, it’s always good to have a bit of randomization,” he said. “We all want that. I’m a fan of the sport and we all want to see that every now and again. A wet race? Game on! Let’s go.

“But it goes with all sports. Often you see Manchester United, Barcelona – they have periods of dominance. And yes, it’s a big moment when you see things like a Verstappen victory in Austria. It’s beautiful to see. And yes, I’m a Mercedes, Toto and Lewis fan but it’s nice to see someone else share the spoils every once in awhile. They’re all busting their nuts, they are all working hard. Ferrari? They’re really trying to win.”

While Webber thinks the F1 show needs improving, he cautions against doing things too quickly that will result in the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

“They (Liberty Media, F1 owners) could do all sorts of things,” he said. “They could have shorter races. They could have a race on Saturday and another one on Sunday. You could reverse the top ten qualifyers so that the pole sitter starts tenth. You could award points for overtaking. All of that is possible.

“But the sport is still entrenched in its old methodology. And that remains popular. People like qualifying. They want to see who will put it all out there in the run for the pole.”

But the retired driver acknowledged that times and tastes are changing.

“Yes, people’s attention spans are changing,” he said. “People have lots of devices on their phone You have to be very careful before you just go ahead and change things. When I was growing up, a two-hour Grand Prix was something to really, really look forward to. Now, Sunday afternoon is probably the worst time of the weekend for us to pull you away from what you really like doing and ask you to sit down for a two-hour Grand Prix. But, again: you have to be careful – one bad apple in a cartful of apples can upset the whole thing.”

Webber said that looking back, making it to F1 was the highlight of his racing career – and he made it, he said, against all odds.

“It was very rewarding for me and the people around me,” he said. “It was a journey I went on by myself, of course, but then to get to Europe . . . they were good days. Resilience got me to F1. It’s like Everest. There are a lot of good climbers, so you have to be more determined than the others. And then, when you get to the top of Everest, you have to hang there for as long as you can. That’s what you have to do to get to Formula One. And then it starts.

“When I won my first Grand Prix (2009 German GP), which I won from pole position, to hear the Australian national anthem . . .I’ll have that for the rest of my life.”

Webber said he has no unfinished business as a driver and that he is retired. But he also said he’s going to go to Indianapolis in 2020.

“I’m going to Indy next year with Dario Franchitti,” he said. “My racing days are over. I’ve been to the Monaco Grand Prix for 23 straight years, so it’s time for a change. I want to see Will Power race; I want to see Scott Dixon race. I’ll probably shit myself at what I see. But I want to watch how Roger Penske goes about his business. And Tim Cindric. I want to be more exposed to that. Formula E is on the radar now too.

“I’ll be on the edge – but also drinking a glass of red wine when I can . . . “