Redemption beckons for Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin after miserable end at Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

PARIS — Sebastian Vettel is feeling optimistic about his new Formula One career with Aston Martin after turning the page on a miserable last season with Ferrari.

Things went from bad to awful for the four-time F1 champion in 2020.

He had just one podium finish and ended 10 of 17 races outside the top 10 last season amid a tense atmosphere worsened by the fact Ferrari did not offer him a new contract.

“The whole year was a challenge. I’m obviously not happy with how last year went in terms of performance, in terms of my performance,” he said. “There are things that didn’t go well and things I would have liked to go differently. It’s not a secret that at stages I wasn’t at my happiest.”

Last year was a huge fall from grace for Vettel, whose confidence was already shaken after he lost the 2017 and 2018 titles to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, despite leading both championships at the halfway stage.

A driver who still shares the F1 record with Michael Schumacher for most wins in a season – 13 with Red Bull in 2013 – and has 53 wins among his 121 podiums found himself outclassed by his junior teammate Charles Leclerc in 2019 and 2020.

When Leclerc was given a lucrative new contract through 2024 – and Vettel wasn’t even offered one -it became clear who was considered No. 1 in the team. The frown lines grew deeper on Vettel’s face as he finished the last three races of 2020 in 13th, 12th and 14th.

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“It hadn’t been to my standards. I’ve never really cared what people think or say, or write,” Vettel said. “That’s why it’s important I’m at peace with myself. (I have) very, very high expectations of myself.”

He even considered retiring but a move to Aston Martin has rekindled the 33-year-old German driver’s enthusiasm.

“I’m not too old, there are older drivers returning to the grid,” he said, referring to 39-year-old Fernando Alonso. “I don’t think it’s an age thing, I think it’s more a question of (whether) you have the team and the car around you.”

The Aston Martin team runs on Mercedes engines and is owned by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, whose son Lance Stroll is the team’s other driver.

The plan is to make Aston Martin a title contender within three to five years.

Vettel suggested the atmosphere at Aston Martin is less stuffy than it was at powerhouse Ferrari. The Italian manufacturer with its bright red car remains the most iconic name in F1 history. But Ferrari has not won a drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and its last constructors’ title was in ’08.

“It’s obviously very small (at Aston Martin) if you compare it to Ferrari at first,” Vettel said. “Things are a bit different, but it’s not about the fancy looks or the fancy expensive designer chairs in the office, it’s more about the work that is done behind the scenes.”

A new chapter in Vettel’s career will start Sunday at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

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Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.