Former Ferrari press officer, Alberto Antonini, has revealed that Sebastian Vettel was very assertive when he first arrived at the team in 2014.
Having won four championships on the bounce with Red Bull, Vettel made a pre-agreement with Ferrari at 2013, suspecting that the start of the hybrid era would not go well for the Austrian side.
Indeed, he suffered a difficult year in 2014, and announced that he was headed to Ferrari at that season’s Japanese Grand Prix.
When he arrived at Maranello a couple of months later though, he immediately got comfortable, telling mechanics that their techniques and practices were not what he was used to, which ruffled a few feathers.
“He did everything he had to do at Red Bull,” Antonini told the GoF1 Show.
“People tend to forget that he won four world championships in a row; with Red Bull, he probably had the right environment for him.
“When he came along at Ferrari, we joined the team virtually together at the end of 2014.
“He just started, I’m going to be blunt, annoying some people by telling them ‘that’s not the way we did it at Red Bull’ and they’d say ‘you’re not at Red Bull now, you’re at Ferrari’.
“He also clashed, in a way, with the reality of such a big company where everything has to be gauged because you’re always worried about the consequences of what you do.”
Vettel challenged Sir Lewis Hamilton for the title in 2017 and 2018 in a highly competitive but perennially respectful rivalry, and the now 37-year-old came out on top both times.
One of the turning points of the 2017 season was the Singapore Grand Prix, which saw both Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen collide with Max Verstappen, sending them all out of the race.
The German then suffered engine problems in Malaysia and Japan, which all but put pay to his and Ferrari’s title challenge.
All in all though, Mercedes developed much better than the Scuderia over the course of the season as they sealed their fourth straight title.
“In 2017, the car was very good, but the development faded,” explained Antonini.
“So all the improvements that you’re supposed to put in the car from mid-season onwards, most of them were not right.”
A year later, the four-time champion was leading the championship when he crashed from P1 at his home German Grand Prix, swinging the championship in Hamilton’s favour.
Vettel went on to win just one more race that year in Spa after his heartbreak in Hockenheim, but Antonini divulged that the Italian side’s problems began long before that.
They had a woefully handling car that Vettel was determined to push harder than it was truly capable of, putting them on the back foot immediately.
“In 2018, I want to be absolutely honest with you, when the season started, at the shakedown, which normally used control tyres, Sebastian drove the car for the first time,” said Antonini.
“He’s not supposed to be looking for the big lap times that day, but he felt there was something wrong with the car.
“The car was too light on the front end, the car was not a winner from the start, it was worked on to become a winner. Sebastian was very, very keen to go for it.”
Antonini also affirmed that the incident in Germany had a lasting effect on Vettel as he watched his title aspirations slip away with one mistake.
“What happened in Hockenheim in Germany when he just went straight into the barrier when he was leading and controlling the race – that did affect him, psychologically,” he added.
“He probably lost confidence in that, but the technical situation at the time was far, far worse then than what it is now.
“The car was good, but you have to put things into perspective.
“In relation to competition, Mercedes at the time, the car was good but not that good.”
Antonini believes that the F1-75 is the best car the Maranello-based side have had in a very long time, so feels that a lot of the criticism of the now 35-year-old was harsh.
“Today’s Ferrari is probably the best Ferrari ever seen in decades, so I keep wondering if Sebastian had been in this car and a few years younger,” he suggested.
“I don’t blame [Sebastian] for everything that happened there, because he’s been taking too much criticism and I don’t think he deserves all that.
“The situation was far more complicated than it looked and it was not down to driver errors what happened in those two seasons.
“It was really difficult to take it to the end and it fizzled out. It’s like you have a soccer team and you’re supposed to have your players withstand 90 minutes and then, all of a sudden, after 70 minutes, they start to fall apart. It wasn’t just the driver, it was the whole team.”
With Vettel starting to switch his focus to other aspects of his life and spending his time scrapping to score points in his Aston Martin, Antonini is not surprised at his decision to retire at the end of the season.
“Not at all [surprised],” he said.
“Honestly, I have been in touch with him very occasionally, I came down to see him at Imola and left him a copy of my book.
“[But] Formula 1 is total life. It wants everything – every bit of you.
“If you start to feel like the other things in life, and there are other things in life – life beyond F1- that means you’re probably losing touch with what you’re doing, which is normal.
“It’s just a stage in your life you’re going through, and there’s nothing too dramatic with this, it just means that the time has come for you to rethink about your life.
“I would go as far as say he stayed one year too long. Not performance-wise, because he’s been able to perform, and he had ups and downs, but that is probably related to his state of mind as well.
“But yeah, it was high time for him to say ‘OK, let’s pull the plug on this, and let’s do something else’. He has the resources, he is still very young at 35.
“He has a wonderful family backing and supporting him, and I am looking forward to actually seeing him doing something else and doing what he’s interested in.”
Vettel has won 53 races and achieved 122 podiums, as well as 57 pole positions, in an illustrious career which saw him score a points on his debut in 2007 with BMW Sauber.