Big steps towards Formula 1
At an early age, Sebastian Vettel appeared on Red Bull's radar. The Austrian racing team's junior programme did not yet lead to Formula 1 at the time, but it did mean an easier path to the top. In 2001, Vettel was accepted into the programme and the road to the premier class was swiftly taken.
Vettel did not stay active in the lower classes for long, in 2006 the German got the chance to work as a test driver for BMW Sauber. At the time, he was the youngest driver ever to complete a lap in a race weekend, in the second free practice session before the Turkish Grand Prix. Not only did Vettel set the fastest time of the session, he also received his first fine for speeding in the pit lane.
The debut in a Grand Prix came unexpectedly after Robert Kubica was involved in a big crash in Canada. Vettel took a seat in the BMW during the race weekend in Indianapolis and even picked up points there. Another record that was set by Vettel: Being the youngest driver ever to score points in a Grand Prix. This record, and that of the youngest participant in a race weekend, was taken away from Seb years later by Max Verstappen.
Flying time at Toro Rosso
Still under contract as a Red Bull junior, Vettel moved to Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing's satellite team, in 2007. The STR2 was far from the best car on the grid, but Sebastian Vettel still managed to impress. In China, the German scored his only points finish with Toro Rosso that season, but it was an excellent result: P4. One year later, Vettel would continue this trend, scoring 35 points throughout the season.
In Italy, friend and foe were amazed when Vettel took pole position on a soaking Monza and drove to victory the next day. The record for youngest pole-sitter is still held by Vettel. Verstappen has not been able to change that either.
Red Bull Racing era
Red Bull's string of great results did not go unnoticed, leading Helmut Marko to move his young protégé to the main team: David Coulthard retired so Vettel could prove himself in a top car. In 2009 Brawn GP was too strong for Red Bull Racing, but one year later Vettel would show his best side.
Four years in a row Vettel won the championship and four times he also took the constructors' title. In his final season with Red Bull Racing, the German strung together nine GP wins and Seb topped the podium thirteen times that year.
The introduction of hybrid engines into F1 was accompanied by a major setback for Red Bull Racing in 2014. No longer was the team the dominant force, the baton was taken over by the factory Mercedes team. After a season without victory for Vettel alongside Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull announced the German's departure at the end of 2014:
Waiting time at Ferrari
In 2015, Vettel replaced the departed Fernando Alonso at the team from Maranello, who made the wrong choice for the umpteenth time in his career and faced some dismal years at McLaren. Alongside Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel got off to a strong start to his first season at Ferrari.
The three victories and series of podiums were not nearly enough to pass Mercedes. Sebastian had to settle for P3 in the standings and a year later, things didn't get much better. He didn't even win a single race in 2016.
The four-time world champion can smile again in 2017 when the Ferrari SF70H seems to be able to compete with Mercedes. The Italian team sprinted out of the starting blocks, but sank back during the season. The same happens in 2018, where the German partly throws away the championship himself by crashing behind the safety car in his home race.
After 2018, Ferrari are no longer fully gambling with the four-time champion. The young talent Leclerc came in and it turned out to be a success. Not Vettel, but Leclerc took multiple victories and poles for the team and scored more points over the year than his more experienced teammate. To top it all off, Leclerc was given a contract by Ferrari until 2024.
Before the start of 2020 Mattia Binotto, Ferrari's team principal, already announced that Vettel will no longer race for the team in 2021. He was replaced by Carlos Sainz. It was a painful end to his six years with the Scuderia and that pain only got worse during the season. He is struggling to score any points at all.
New start at Aston Martin
Because the driver market at the other top teams was pretty much locked in, Vettel decided to join a promising new project. Racing Point was renamed Aston Martin and under the leadership of Lawrence Stroll a lot of investments were made. With the budget cap in place from 2021, this team hopes to reach the top in the future.
The switch to Aston Martin turns out to be a good move. Vettel starts with a clean slate and quickly finds his feet within the team. This results in two podium finishes: second place in Baku and second place in Hungary. He lost the latter, however, due to a disqualification after there was not enough fuel in the tank for the FIA investigation.
Sebastian Vettel in 2022
All in all, 2021 proved to be a successful season for Vettel. He finished the season in 12th place, ahead of teammate Lance Stroll and with more points than he managed to collect in his final season with Ferrari. The German seems reborn at Aston Martin and will want to help the team continue on its path to the top in 2022.