SingTel Singapore Grand Prix 2013

F1 champion Sebastian Vettel revs up charm offensive

F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel handing out autographed cards of himself to fans during the grand opening of a new Casio watch store at Marina Bay Sands yesterday.
F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel handing out autographed cards of himself to fans during the grand opening of a new Casio watch store at Marina Bay Sands yesterday.ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Red Bull's Vettel delights fans in cameo appearance for team sponsor

With the precision of a Formula One pit-stop routine, Sebastian Vettel breezed in, opened a store, answered a few questions for the media and was whisked off by his entourage - all in 15 minutes.

That was all the time the defending F1 champion had at the Marina Bay Sands yesterday, where the Red Bull Racing driver cut the ribbon to a new watch shop for team sponsor Casio.

His cameo was slick. It struck all the right notes for the estimated 200 fans, who crowded outside the shop to catch a glimpse of the sport's dominant driver.

The German said all the right words at the right time, praising his team's sponsor and thanking the fans for their support.

With access to the F1 drivers so limited, Vettel's brief appearance was also a golden opportunity for the media to fire some pointed questions.

Chief of the lot would be his strained relationship with team-mate Mark Webber, who will leave Red Bull after this season's last chequered flag.

"I would say we have a professional relationship," was all that Vettel offered.

The three-time world champion, however, had more positive words for incoming team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who will be in the Red Bull cockpit next season.

"I'm looking forward to spending time with Daniel," Vettel said.

"He's very motivated and I'm very happy that he's got the job. He brings a lot of energy into the team."

Tellingly, he added: "I think he's a good guy and hopefully we will have a good relationship."

Victory in the Singapore night race on Sunday will give Vettel another turbo boost in his bid for a fourth consecutive world title.

He leads the drivers standings on 222 points, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso chasing him on 169 points while Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton trails in third with 141 points.

Strangely enough, while questions on Webber were permitted, attempts to get his race predictions were rejected by the public relations people managing the event.

Superstition, was the explanation given.

With a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen joining Ferrari next year, a Alonso-Iceman partnership could either challenge for the title or implode in a clash of egos.

"I'm happy for him (Raikkonen) if that's what he was wishing for," Vettel replied.

"Kimi's no trouble at all and I think it will be fine (at Ferrari) next year.

"Both are very good drivers and if Ferrari have a strong package next year, they will be a threat."

With his 15 minutes almost up, the 26-year-old still managed to squeeze in a few kind final words for Casio, hailing the reliability of the watchmaker's products.

Right on cue, he shook hands with a contest winner, made small talk and signed autographs.

And as he was escorted out of the shop by some heavies, he flashed that winning smile and handed out autographed cards of himself.

This man is not just the pilot of a 2.4 litre V8 rocket on wheels; he is also a PR machine. Such is the job scope of an F1 driver these days.