Lewis Hamilton describes Sebastian Vettel as “one of the greatest people we’ve seen in this sport” as a number of Formula 1 drivers paid tribute to the retiring four-time champion.
Vettel has announced he will retire from Formula 1 at the end of this season, citing the desire to spend more time with his young family. Hamilton and Vettel were rivals after joining F1 at a similar time but have since forged a friendship as they’ve become more experienced and regularly speak out on wider societal issues.
“I kind of knew that it was coming as there had been hints but obviously the realization of it is another thing,” Hamilton said. “I would just say, naturally, my first feeling is it’s sad to see he’s stopping. I’ve not had a lot of time to think about all the journey we’ve been through together.
“When I talk about the journey that I’ve felt I’ve experienced in this sport and often feeling that it’s been relatively lonely, he’s one of the few people that’s made it not feel lonely. He stood by me through a lot of things.
“I always remember 2007, a press conference in Magny-Cours and him being very outspoken in a drivers’ briefing — I knew then he would be a powerful figure in the sport. Then seeing his success and seeing that he puts others before himself… he’s been so brave in speaking out and standing for what he believes in.
“We talk about legends in our sport… I don’t really love that name, that title, to be honest, but I think he’s one of the greatest people we’ve seen in this sport and we need more like him. Sad because I’ve lost an ally in this side of the sport on the grid, but I know that outside he will be doing great things and we will always remain friends and I hope there are other things we get to do together outside.”
However, Hamilton says it’s the all-round person that Vettel is that makes him stand out, praising the talent that brought him four drivers’ championships in a row from 2010-13.
“On the racing part of things, he was incredibly quick, very, very intelligent. A very good engineer, I think — very, very precise on track. Just a great all-round competitor. Very fair but also very strong, firm on track. He’s never been someone to blame other people for mistakes, he would always put his hand up and say it was his fault, which I always thought was honorable.
“Naturally I think when you’re focused on winning championships and stuff… when we were younger, we didn’t have time to stop and talk about what we do in our own personal lives or things we cared about. Over time we’ve started to see one another take those brave steps and standing up for things we believe in and been able to support each other.
“He’s been so supportive to me and I’d like to think I’ve supported him also. I’ve come to realize we have a lot more in common than just the driving passion. It’s really kind of been him standing out into the uncomfortable light and trying to do something with the platform that we have and I think that’s why for me he’s very much unlike any other drivers that have been here, past or present.”
Vettel’s former Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc similarly says he will miss the 35-year-old, who he says has been supportive of him off-track.
“It’s sad for me,” Leclerc said. “Maybe for him he’s much happier in the place he’s going now. Obviously it’s going to be strange not to see Seb inside the paddock. I’ve learned so much driving with him and he’s always been super nice with me. I’ll definitely miss Seb in the paddock, I wish him all the best. I’m sure he will find other things that will make him happy in a different way.
“There are lots of moments, but definitely not on-track moments. I think it’s just simpler moments we’ve had at the factory and the way also our relationship evolved throughout the years. I arrived in the first year and I was super impressed, I was probably very weird to him, I was just shy and didn’t know what to say with him.
“But now he’s a friend and he always texts me — he did it after Sunday (in France) and always tries to make me feel better when I am going through a tough time. It’s nice to see how much I’ve grown since I first met him.”
Vettel remains the youngest world champion in F1 history but Max Verstappen has since taken his title of youngest race winner, and the defending champion says Vettel deserves to step back and enjoy new opportunities.
“At the end of the day he has achieved so much in this sport that it’s fully understandable for him to retire,” Verstappen said. “I think he’s had an amazing career — he’s won a lot of races, he’s won a lot of championships as well, and I think he’s a great ambassador for the sport.
“To see him go, it’s something that you could see coming — everyone is getting older, at one point everyone is retiring. It is of course never nice when that moment arrives, especially of course for Seb’s fans, but these things happen. I think it’s important now that he’s just going to enjoy his life with the family, because F1 is such a short period of time in your life that you work so hard to achieve all these things that he has achieved, and now it’s time to enjoy.”