Sebastian Vettel is “reborn” and has a “different vibe about him” in the 2021 Formula 1 season, says Ross Brawn, who admits to doubting the four-time world champion’s Aston Martin move.
The ex-Ferrari driver had been widely tipped to rebuild his confidence and reputation after a poor final season with the famous Italian team and a run of errors in the years that preceded it.
But a combination of low mileage in pre-season testing and Aston Martin’s own struggles following the impact of the floor rule changes for 2021 meant Vettel had a difficult start to the year.
He earned his breakthrough first points finish for Aston Martin in Monaco two weeks ago then scored his first podium with his new team with a fantastic drive to second in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Brawn named Vettel his ‘driver of the day’ for the charging drive from 11th to the podium in Baku, where an extended first stint on fresh soft tyres moved him to sixth and opportunistic driving at a mid-race safety car restart grabbed Vettel fourth.
He was promoted to third place when Max Verstappen crashed because of a blown tyre and inherited second when Lewis Hamilton went off at Turn 1 on the ensuing standing restart.
Brawn said “Seb is having a second lease of life” and confessed to being unsure Aston Martin had made the right choice getting Vettel onboard.
“It is a real pleasure to see him get going again,” said F1’s managing director of motorsport Brawn. “Seb’s had a tough last couple of seasons.
“I was one of the people who was uncertain about the decision Aston made in signing him up, but it’s looking to be a great call because of the way he’s driving and the results he’s getting.
“He’s reborn again. He’s refreshed. There’s a different vibe about him. And it just shows how the whole psychological aspect can impact performance.
“Seb has found himself in a much more comfortable place, with the right sort of pressure and with engineers who he is learning to work with.
“He’s getting results and he deserves it.”
Vettel now has almost as many points after six races with Aston Martin as he did in his entire 17-race final Ferrari season with his current 2021 points total of 28 just five shy of his final tally last year.
He had remained calm in the face of the team’s tough start to the year because of the circumstances around a shortened and reliability-hit pre-season test in Bahrain, and how different the AMR21 concept is to the Ferraris he was previously used to.
But Vettel admitted after the Azerbaijan race that it’s “probably true” that scoring strong back-to-back results is helpful psychologically and said it was great for the team after “a very rough start to the season”.
“At the level that we are at it’s clear that everybody is able to drive a car very quickly so small things can make a big difference,” said Vettel.
“It probably took a little bit longer than I wanted to at the beginning of the season, to get on top of myself and adjust to the car.
“But I was confident that at some point it would start clicking and obviously Monaco was great. We had a good result there so that helps.
“You can argue that it takes off a bit of pressure but I think the expectations in general are fairly high at the beginning of the year.”
A key sign of Vettel’s progress has been that his strong results have come on street circuits, where confidence is key.
Vettel said that in Baku “you can make a difference if you really feel confident with the car” and said he had felt that way through the weekend, only missing out on a Q3 place in qualifying because of a lock-up at Turn 15.
That error allowed him free tyre choice for the grand prix, though, which facilitated the strategy that set up his entire charge.
“It was one of the races this year where actually our race pace was very strong compared to qualifying pace,” he said.
“Other events we had a stronger showing in qualifying and then struggled a bit in the race.
“It was, if anything, the other way around.”