Although he constantly clocks over 300km/h on the job, this affable German racing superstar also loves cruising the outdoors in his SUV
Infinitely talented PHOTO: SPH

Most people would associate German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel with his race-winning exploits at Red Bull Racing, in his super-fast RB racecar. While he spends much time in his Renault-powered speed machine racking up wins and world titles (he already has two), and breaking almost every F1 record that stands, he loves “normal” road cars just as much. In fact, it was Vettel’s passion for driving that led to Red Bull Racing’s sponsor, Infiniti, creating a special ride for him. This 24-year-old bachelor had a significant part to play in the model that was chosen, too – and contrary to what many would guess, the car selected was not a low-slung, two-door speedster.

How old were you when you got your driving licence?

Interestingly, while I first raced a Formula machine when I was 16 (in the Formula BMW series), I only got my licence to drive on public roads a year later. Still, this was better than most other Germans, who normally get it when they turn 18. I took the test in a BMW X3, and passed it on
my first try.

Which are some of the cars you’ve owned (and driven) since then?

I love cars, and have been lucky enough to own quite a few. Most of the first few models I had were BMWs as I started racing in Formula One with the BMW-Sauber team. I also received a Mercedes-Benz SL65 Black Series Limited Edition for being the first-ever winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009. Since 2011, I’ve been driving models from our team sponsor Infiniti.

Can you tell us more about some of your favourite Infiniti models?

Personally, I love the FX50. As I am the outdoorsy type, this crossover SUV suits my lifestyle when I’m away from the racetrack. There’s plenty of space for my gear, including my mountain bike, and there is ample performance from the 5-litre engine, which also has eight cylinders like my racecar. Last but not least, its roomy interior allows me to take my friends along with ease.

How did the idea to make the FX Sebastian Vettel come about?

I first discussed the idea with Shiro Nakamura (chief creative officer of Nissan and Infiniti) during the 2011 Geneva Motor Show when it was announced that the company would became a partner of Red Bull Racing. We started chatting about the kind of cars we like and what we would want from a road car, and it took off from there.

How did you feel when Infiniti gave the go-ahead for the car?

I remember that I was very excited. In fact, I still feel the same way about it. In Formula One, there are hundreds of people working on my racecar, for me. The FX Sebastian Vettel presented me with a unique opportunity to develop a car that can be enjoyed by others.

To what extent were you involved in the vehicle’s conceptualisation?

The main people behind the car were Shiro-san and his team. I helped by offering my ideas on what I wanted the car to be like, and also some of the features I’d like for it to have. They incorporated many of these into the design, so I’m very happy with the result.

If you could pick one Infiniti to go on a driving trip in, which would it be?

All of the Infiniti cars I’ve driven, such as the M and the G models, are great for long journeys – they can cruise comfortably at speed yet still feel safe and stable. But my favourite is still the car I’m driving now, the FX50. I’ve used it on many trips to faraway destinations, and I have a smile on my face every time I get behind the wheel.

Other than long-distance driving, have you done anything memorable in a road car?

Back in 2007, I participated in a fuel economy challenge organised by BMW Magazine. Also involved were the editor and one of BMW’s driving instructors. Each of us had to drive a BMW 530i saloon as far as we possibly could on just five litres of petrol. We started in Leipzig and headed towards Dresden (about 116km away). I ended up clocking 91km before the car came to a halt, which was 18km further than my closest challenger. Many people don’t realise that during races, Formula One drivers must also be proficient in conserving fuel, besides being able to go as fast as we can.

BACK FOR GOOD

We quiz Toru Saito, VP of Infiniti’s global business unit, about the marque’s long-term business plans at the recent opening of the brand’s showroom
in Singapore.

Why didn’t Infiniti’s first foray into Singapore (in 1996) work?

Our previous approach wasn’t “serious” enough, and we did not consider public perception of the brand. The luxury business is all about the brand, not really about the products. And if we want to be successful in this highly competitive car segment, we have to separate ourselves from Nissan, which although popular and well-known, is a mass-market brand.

Are crossovers Infiniti’s core strength?

New luxury customers tend to be more utility-oriented and find crossovers more valuable. But we’re planning to develop a smaller car that occupies the position just below the G, which is our entry-level model.

Will there be a saloon larger than the M?

We are discussing that internally, but no firm decision has been made yet. But I can say that we are planning on incorporating hybrid technology into the rest of our models.

Which carmaker is your main rival?

There is a common element between us and BMW, because we are trying to make fun-to-drive and dynamic vehicles. But Infiniti cars look curvier and their designs aren’t as “cold” as the Germans’.

Since Infiniti sponsors Red Bull, will F1 technology be implemented into your cars at some point?

Interestingly enough, it’s the other way around. Red Bull is interested in our high-density, high-kilowatt batteries.


 

This article first appeared in Torque.

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