Otmar Szafnauer decided to open his memory and reveal to the world some of the strange things he had already experienced. formula 1, such as Sebastian Vettel’s flirtation with Honda prior to its debut in the category. The American, who was part of the Japanese manufacturer’s team command when it was in F1, said that the talks did not continue because of Gil de Ferran.
The Brazilian was Honda’s sporting director at the time. Szafnauer said that the plan came from Vettel himself, who was part of the Red Bull Driver Academy and also had a contract as a reserve at BMW. But the deal was about to expire.
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“Seb came to me and said, ‘I’ve got a two-week deadline,’ and he was a, I don’t know, 19-year-old, something like that,” recalled the current Alpine boss. “There was a two-week period where the contract ended with Red Bull, and I think with BMW as well, and then he was like, ‘Are you interested in signing me?
Szafnauer admitted that he already saw hidden potential in the slender, thuggish youngster, but he threw the ball to De Ferran, who did not care about the young German’s interests. “At that time I was a stranger, but I said to myself, ‘This man is good.’ Two weeks left! I went to Gil [de Ferran] and said we had two weeks to hire Vettel. ‘Don’t worry, I have my eyes on him,’” was the response the manager heard.
Sensing that this could be his only chance to have a four-time champion in his team, Szafnauer took up the words of Honda’s sporting director, but to no avail. “What do you mean, ‘I watched him’?” We have two weeks. We didn’t hire him anyway.”
The rest of the story, everyone had a chance to follow: Vettel made his BMW debut in 2007, replacing Robert Kubica in the US GP, and scored his first point in the race. In the same year, he went to Toro Rosso, the following season, he surprised the world by taking over the Italian GP and still winning the race from start to finish. The move to Red Bull had consequences, and it was with the Austrian team that he dominated F1 from 2010 to 2013, winning his four world titles.
Szafnauer, however, kept in touch with Vettel and had the opportunity to work alongside the German at Aston Martin. Among the many stories, the Alpine boss fondly remembers the period when Seb visited his family every time during the covid-19 pandemic. “During Covid-19, he felt more comfortable not going to hotels, as he thought he might catch the virus. He stayed at our house every time he came to England. Everyone was tested, so he was sure we didn’t have covid.
“Every time he came, he brought a little homemade bread that he made in Switzerland. I remember the kids would look at him, but they loved what Seb brought. And every time he came back, he brought home-made bread. Amazing! Who else does this?” he finished.