Sebastian Vettel – The Funniest German

The German sense of humour is often treated as a punchline in itself. Lazy comedians fall back on the concept in the absence of a joke, and British audiences in particular like to laugh at our po-faced Teutonic neighbours.

 

And while films such as Go Trabi Go have begun to change the stereotype of the unfunny German, there is still a long way to go. While young Germans these days will have grown up with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and all manner of American and British comedy imports, the German obsession with Dinner for One means the stereotype lives on.

 

Sebastian Vettel is – unwittingly – turning that stereotype on its head.

 

In addition to being one of the most talented drivers on the modern grid, Sebastian Vettel is a breath of fresh air in the paddock. As F1 has become ever more of a business and less of a sport, the drivers have been conforming to corporate expectations. Personalities are subdued, composed, and professional, and the vast majority of paddock quotes come in the form of carefully crafted PR-friendly statements.

 

Vettel is one of the few drivers who can be relied on for a laugh or two in press conferences, and whose responses are more natural than scripted.

 

Reacting to the Baby Schumi nickname given to him by German newspapers, Vettel said “Well, it’s just a joke. I’ve asked my mum and Michael really isn’t my father.”

And his response on winning the rain-soaked 2008 Monza Grand Prix for Toro Rosso – a victory that made him the youngest winner in F1 history – has become the stuff of Formula 1 legend. Asked by a reporter whether the victory marked the best night of his life, Vettel replied “you obviously weren’t there the night I lost my virginity”.

According to his team profile on the Red Bull website, Sebastian has two ambitions in life: win the WDC and beat Kimi Raikkonen at badminton.

But there is a lot more to the young German than dry wit and a cheeky sense of humour. While Sebastian Vettel has yet to win the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship, the expectation is that it is only a matter of time. And if Red Bull have seen the last of the reliability gremlins that plagued the RB6 in the first two races of 2010, this could be Vettel’s year.

So how did a 22-year-old become a future champion in only three full seasons in F1? Sebastian Vettel’s path to circuit-racing stardom began in 1990, with the purchase of a child-sized kart. Three-year-old Vettel could hardly bear to be parted from the machine, and began skipping meals in order to spend more time behind the wheel.

That early dedication has served him well. Vettel’s childhood was spent in karting; he began competing at the age of eight, and by 2001 was winning titles. In 2003, at the age of 15, Sebastian made the move into open-wheel racing. It was this transition that marked the start of Vettel’s career as we know it today.

While much has been written about Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg dominating junior formulae on the way into Formula 1, Vettel took a slightly different approach. Where Hamilton and Hulkenberg both served their time in GP2, Vettel got his start in Formula BMW (as did Hulkenberg), but then moved on to Formula 3 and Formula Renault, where he kept a foot in the door until Toro Rosso offered him a full-time drive mid-way through the 2007 F1 season.

Although unconventional, the approach has served him well. In 2004, Vettel dominated Germany’s Formula BMW series, winning 18 out of 20 races, and appearing on the podium at every event. In 2005, racing against Hamilton in the  Formula Three Euroseries, Vettel was the highest-scoring rookie, and came fifth overall.

Thanks to his domination of Formula BMW, Vettel scored two F1 tests in 2005 – one for the Williams team, in its final season using a BMW engine, and the other for BMW’s newly purchased Sauber. The Sauber test resulted in a test role for the team towards the end of the 2006 season, but it was 2007 before the young German was able to make the move into Formula 1 full-time.

Vettel’s first outing as an F1 driver was at the 2006 Turkish GP, when he took over Robert Kubica’s test role when the Pole replaced the injured Jacques Villeneuve. And within seconds of getting behind the wheel, Sebastian Vettel was already making Formula 1 history. Nine seconds into his career, the young German was fined for speeding in the pitlane. No driver has yet managed to score a fine in less time, and it is a record that is likely to stand for some time to come.

The young German also scored the fastest time in Friday afternoon practice that weekend, raising eyebrows up and down the paddock. This was a driver to watch

In 2007 Vettel was balancing his testing commitments to BMW Sauber – now full-time – with a push for victory in the World Series by Renault. He was leading the championship when Toro Rosso offered him a full-time driver role, replacing Scott Speed.

Vettel took the seat, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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