Sebastian Vettel visited the Homestead Miami Speedway this weekend for the Sprint Cup Series season finale as a guest of the Red Bull NASCAR team. AUTOSPORT spoke to the Formula 1 world championship runner up about his first NASCAR experience.
Q. So how's your first experience of NASCAR been?
SV: Well it's very different, but it's the first time I see a NASCAR race live. Obviously I've seen a little bit on TV, especially since Juan Pablo [Montoya] moved, I sometimes tried to follow and look at the results to see how he's doing, because obviously he has been one of us and now he's in a totally different world so it is really interesting to see how he's doing. I think it's a very special world. For sure he can tell you much better, but I think it takes some time to understand how things work over here.
It's just completely different. The races are very different, the cars are very different, it's always on an oval and you've got a lot of cars around you, you've got one guy on the radio, the spotter, always telling you which position you are, who's behind you, next to you, left and right, and you're much busier in a way. There are a lot of things to look out for, and it's different than in Formula 1. It will be interesting to see the race live.
Q. You had the chance to meet with Montoya, how do you see the man three years after leaving F1?
SV: Juan is a good guy, he always has been, even though I didn't know much of him in Formula 1 because I was still young and I wasn't yet in there, just about to start. He was the kind of person who respects you from the first moment. He still is. Very down-to-earth, a very normal person. In the racecar no doubt, I think he was one of the quickest in Formula 1 at the time. He has a very high natural speed, a lot of talent, probably he's also very stubborn, but everyone is his own person and he was for sure one of the best drivers of his time.
In the end he probably didn't feel that comfortable in the world of Formula 1 and now he's here. He's still the same guy, he seems very happy and it's good after some time to see him again. He doesn't have to say anything. You look at his face and you see the man is happy, so that's good. Doesn't matter if it's in Formula 1 or NASCAR.
Q. So you understand more about why he chose to move to NASCAR?
SV: Formula 1 is very different to the American way of racing. I think it depends on the person you are. For some people Formula 1 is fine. For sure there are things everyone likes, mostly the driving, and some things maybe around and outside the cockpit that people don't like so much. For sure now being in Formula 1 you understand why some drivers made some decisions at the time.
Q. Are you curious to drive one of these cars and see what they're like?
SV: Well to have a try probably yes and to see how it is in the oval. Speaking to Juan and other drivers, obviously the cars are much heavier, lazier, there's a lot more movement whereas a Formula 1 car is very sharp and reactive and everything happens very fast - you have to catch the car quickly. Here you're sliding and making a lot of movements with the steering wheel. To have a try in a test would be nice.
Obviously going into races it's a completely different story because it's one thing to control the car on your own, but another one to control it with 40 people around you and probably five or six ten centimetres away from your car. It's not easy, and that's another step up.
Q. Is this something you would ever be interested in doing, probably way down the road?
SV: You should never say never. When Juan entered Formula 1, he didn't know that one day he would be in NASCAR. At the moment for myself, I don't consider to race here for the next few years, but you never know. It's very different, so I think it takes some time. It doesn't look a very easy swap.
Juan is a good driver and it took time for him to adapt to how it works over here and also I think it's very important here to get accepted, to get the respect, because here, if they don't want you to be in the front, you will never be in the front. You have to fight to get the respect and once you're in it's probably fine, but it's very tough to achieve that as a non-American and not someone from their world. Juan came from Formula 1, which is the opposite, and finally settled down here and he's successful. So it's not easy.
Q. Can Formula 1 learn anything from NASCAR?
SV: Well I think NASCAR is an American baby. I think the Americans are very good about sports, not only racing but you look at basketball, football, baseball, always there are a lot of people following and they are very passionate about the sport. Here in NASCAR you have more than 100,000 people coming to see the races, it's always a big show.
So I think there's a lot of things we can learn because sometimes that's what people complain about, that Formula 1 is not exciting enough. Obviously the cars are very different, so it depends on what you like, but still if you're interested in motorsports, I think you can be very passionate about Formula 1, but I think for the show there are things we can learn.
Some things will always be different, because Formula 1 is just not NASCAR and NASCAR is not Formula 1 but in America they're very good at how to put the show on and put the focus on the sports, the drivers. It's always a huge crowd, always packed and I think this is something we can learn in Europe, to make it more interesting for that many people.
Q. A lot has happened in F1 since you left Abu Dhabi as a winner. The world champion is basically leaving Mercedes and going to McLaren. What do you think about that?
SV: I think it was a surprise to everyone. Brawn GP, now Mercedes GP, was very, very strong this year. They won the drivers' and contractors' championships. They had a very good car, a good team and it's always a surprise if a champion, in a champion team, is leaving. You don't know if things will change completely next year, but in that regard for Brawn GP it was a very positive thing to happen that Mercedes is now taking over and it's a manufacturer team.
So it was a surprise and for next year they're going to be strong. McLaren always has been, this year they were struggling a little bit but I think looking back they've always been strong. I'm very confident in how strong we are in Red Bull and we will get even stronger, so we will see.
It will be a nice challenge next year, not only with McLaren, also with Mercedes GP, whose drivers we don't know yet, and also with Ferrari, same as McLaren. The rules change a little bit, no refuelling, a little bit different tyres but not that much. Not like from 2008 to 2009, so we'll see in the first test.