Sebastian Vettel has just four races left in his 15-year Formula 1 career, with the German having been his most emotional yet since announcing his retirement at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Suzuka holds an incredibly special place in the 35-year-old’s heart, with the driver having won at the legendary venue four times and also having claimed his 2011 World Championship at the circuit.
Vettel isn’t only a fan of Suzuka, Suzuka appears to be a fan of Vettel, with a sea of Aston Martin green having been seen every time the fans got a glimpse of the 53-time Grand Prix winner.
It seems somewhat fitting that Vettel is ending his final season whilst arguably enjoying his brightest spell yet with the Silverstone-based team, following an eighth-place finish at Singapore and an unbelievable sixth place finish at Japan last Sunday.
The German and old rival Fernando Alonso rolled back the years on the final lap at Suzuka, after Vettel beat the Spaniard to P6 by a breathtaking 0.011 seconds in a drag race to the line.
It’s bizarre to think that Vettel’s last title came back in 2013, at a time when the German was unstoppable and undeniably unbeatable.
Vettel has enjoyed a highly successful career but has claimed just two podiums in the last three years; however, this disappointing fall to becoming a challenger for the points rather than a challenge for victories hasn’t affected his “love” for the sport.
“I still love the sport. I still love racing,” he said in an interview.
“The decision to retire was a tough one, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I know how much commitment this sport requires, and I feel like it’s a good time to do other things.”
Given how much potential there seemed to be at Aston Martin following Vettel’s move for 2021, with this potential being based on his talent and the previous success of the team when known as Racing Point, there is no doubt that the switch hasn’t gone as planned.
Vettel is the first to admit that “we fell short” but has made it perfectly clear that he’s not “pointing the finger”.
“They have been challenging because the car wasn’t as competitive as we hoped,” Vettel added.
“This year, we wanted to make a significant improvement over last year. We failed. We’re currently where we finished last year.
“I’m not pointing the finger and saying we did a bad job. I’m just being realistic. We had high hopes, but we fell short.”
Whilst Vettel has expressed his intent to spend more time with his young family and try some different things, you’d have to imagine that should the German have been in a winning car, then he wouldn’t be retiring after Abu Dhabi.
The four-time World Champion “might not have” decided to retire had he been more competitive but is actually “happy” he doesn’t enjoy simply finishing in the bottom end of the points.
“I don’t know,” said the 53-time GP winner.
“Would I be retiring if I had been very competitive over the last three or four years: winning races, fighting for championships – maybe winning another one?
“I might have come to the same decision. Equally, I might not have. It’s impossible to say, but it has crossed my mind.
“Finishing 10th doesn’t give me a buzz because I know how it feels to finish first. If you’ve never finished first, the first time you finish 10th you get a real buzz.
“But I’m happy that I don’t get a buzz from finishing 10th.”
Vettel is without a doubt one of the greatest F1 drivers in the history of the sport, with his 53 wins and four consecutive World Championships being proof of that.
He is also loved by fans around the world, with the prospect of himself not being on the grid next year seeming somewhat strange.
Despite the success and the affection, though, he doesn’t think people will “remember me”.
“I once heard someone say, ‘You will only be remembered until the last person who remembers you dies’ he said.
“Let me put it this way: the UK has a new king, but he’s not the first King Charles – there were two more before him. Do you remember them? Probably not. There’s a limit.
“There will probably come a point when no one will remember me. Nothing lasts forever.”
It is highly likely that something will be planned to commemorate Vettel’s last race of his F1 career at Abu Dhabi, with a number of drivers having already thanked Vettel for all he’s done for the sport.
The German finds this “funny”, with him actually believing it’s him who should be thanking people.
“You know, it’s funny, a lot of people say thank you to me, but I want to thank them more,” Vettel revealed.
“If I did what I did and no one was watching – no people in the grandstands, no emotions from the outside – it wouldn’t mean a thing.
“I want to say thank you to so many people for making my racing career, my life, what it is.”