For the longest time, if you put together the words ‘Germany’ and ‘Formula 1’, the only logical connection would be ‘Michael Schumacher.’ [firstpara]
In his heydey, the seven-time F1 champion so popularized the sport in his homeland that kids there took up karting in droves, hoping to follow in his tire tracks.
This eventually resulted in the current F1 grid having six Germans out of 24 drivers.
But while Schumi is again part of this head count having come out of retirement in 2010, he is no longer dominating the series like he did from 2000 to 2004 with Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel, dubbed "Baby Schumi," is the German to beat in F1 nowadays—and he’s not making it easy for the other contenders.
With the Malaysian Gran Prix happening on Sunday, April 10, it's high time we all learn about the dude waaaaay in the lead.
Who is Sebastian Vettel?
Sebastian Vettel (pronounced ‘Fettel’—we must say it as the Germans do, ja?) is F1's reigning champion. He is also the sport’s youngest, having been just 23 years and 134 days old when he clinched the championship for Red Bull Racing in 2010. Talk about a young overachiever, huh?
If he’s champion by 23, at what age did he learn how to drive?
That would be at the ripe old age of... three. He was driving just go-karts at that time, of course, gaining career mileage by lapping the garden of his family home in Heppenheim.
He’d already secured several Euro karting titles under his belt by the time he hit the awkward phase of pubescent zits and braces.
It was enough to get him into the Red Bull Junior Team, a driver program that backed talented young racers.
You mean Red Bull, as in the energy drink?
Yes, as in the one that ‘gives you wings.’ Its Austrian owner Dietrich Mateschitz is a big motorsports fan. After dabbling in F1 as a sponsor, he eventually decided to set up a team.
He set up two, in fact: the main Red Bull Racing team (established in 2005), and the smaller Scuderia Toro Rosso outfit (2006), which serves to assess the potential of the Junior Team graduates.
So as part of the Junior Team, Vettel was automatically guaranteed an F1 seat?
Not necessarily. Having dominated the Formula BMW series in 2004 with 18 wins out of 20 races, Vettel caught the eye of the BMW Sauber F1 team bosses. It was them who gave him his big break.
He’d been competing in the Formula 3 Euro Series and the World Series by Renault in 2006 when he was recruited by BMW as a test driver—someone primarily involved in car development. They needed to make sure the race cars were safe before putting in the star drivers, you know.
How’d he make it to Red Bull Racing from there?
Well, after becoming the youngest to score F1 points—in his debut race, no less—at the 2007 US Grand Prix, Toro Rosso promptly swiped him from BMW.
He impressed enough that year to be retained for the next season, and during the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, he scored Toro Rosso’s maiden pole position and race win. That feat also made him F1’s youngest polesitter and race winner.