Formula One: Champion who hungers for records

Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel speaks during a press conference at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on Aug 31, 2017.
Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel speaks during a press conference at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on Aug 31, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

The will to win among Formula One champions can come packaged in many ways - from the win-at-all-costs snarl of Michael Schumacher, to Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna ramming each other off the track, or to the intense but suave elegance of Lewis Hamilton.

But do not be misled by the easy-going nature, good humour and disarming smile of Sebastian Vettel. Lurking behind that visor is a driver with obsessive-compulsive urge to milk every last ounce of performance out of his car.

The Ferrari man comes to the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix with the proud record of having the most wins (four) in arguably the toughest circuit on the calendar. He is the only man to have scored points in every Singapore Grand Prix, never finishing lower than fifth and winning in 2011, 2012, 2013 with Red Bull and 2015.

He sits alongside Prost on the list of world champions with four drivers' titles (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), behind Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Michael Schumacher (seven).

Vettel served a reminder of his competitive edge yesterday when he grabbed pole position at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, clocking a new lap record of 1 min 39.491sec.

Whether he triumphs tonight, there can be no doubts from other drivers on the grid about the 30-year-old's hunger.

Having raced alongside him at Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo is well-placed to provide insight into the German's inner workings.

The Australian told The Straits Times: "As a team-mate, he was surprisingly good. I always thought he was respectful, didn't seem to do anything which I thought was wrong. I thought he was fair.

"As a rival, I thought he was a tough competitor. He's one of the few drivers who fights a bit harder for an overtake, so I respect that."

But what separates Vettel from the pack is his dedication. While drivers' championship leader Hamilton (238 points) is known for his celebrity engagements, second-placed Vettel (235 points) spends his time honing his craft.

Ricciardo revealed: "He loves F1, like his life is F1. I worry that he doesn't have too many other hobbies. He dedicates a lot of time to racing."

Pirelli's head of motor sports Paul Hembery told Autosport in 2011 that, apart from Schumacher, the only other driver who visited the tyre factory and asked questions was Vettel.

Force India's Mexican duo Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon also testified that Vettel is a tough cookie.

Perez said: "He generally is able to qualify well, and qualifying here is 90 per cent of the race. He does not make any mistakes."

Ocon added: "He's a champion, you know he's doing well in most of the places (during qualifying) and I think he's a very strong driver. If he wins more here (it's probably because) the track suits him better."

To Ricciardo, Vettel has that sheer determination to be the first and it is all fuelled by being a glutton for records.

He said: "For him (Vettel), he wants to do that more than anything. He's a guy driven by records.

"For me, I want to be world champion, but do I want to win five if it means that I stay in the sport until I'm 50? Probably not. But maybe he's the guy that would stay. I think he likes the history and the nostalgia that comes with it."

•Additional reporting by Ho Cai Jun and Ian Kiew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Champion who hungers for records'. Print Edition | Subscribe