F1 Champ Sebastian Vettel raced for me when he was 17S

A year before he became BMW’s test driver in Formula One, Sebastian Vettel raced for the Spanish team Racing Engineering in the Spanish Formula 3 Championship. Team owner Alfonso de Orleans-Borbón has recalled for us meeting the young man who would become Formula One’s youngest world champion. – Ed.

Seb raced for us back when we had the F3 team, and I have to admit I was amazed by him from the very first moment we met. He was extremely polite and his sister drove him to races since he did not have a driver’s license at the time.

Having never met the team, nor drove the car or even been to any track in Spain, he immediately had questions for the engineers, walked the track and wanted to know everyone’s name. I was intrigued by this young kid.

In free practice, he would come in to ask specific questions without making any special changes to the car. Then he spent many hours with the engineers going over everything. In his free time, he played soccer with the mechanics. What amazed me the most was his sheer intelligence and sense of humour.

F1 Champ Sebastian Vettel raced for me when he was 17S

I have never seen anyone learn that much Spanish in just a weekend. He still speaks it when I bump into him during race weekends. That is, if he is not followed by a mob of journalists and fans. Then I just step back and smile. He just shrugs his shoulders and walks past with his court in tow.

There is something I have to point out though, that he is still exactly the same person I met back all those years ago. And in F1 circles, that goes a very long way to show that he really believes in himself and the ability to get things done to win.

One other thing nobody ever brings up is that he has an uncanny ability to switch between being the most fierce, determined, intelligent and quick race driver out there, to being a simple kid that loves to have a good time. He has a wicked sense of humour and fun to be around.

Compared to the other drivers like Schumacher and Alonso, who are very impressive in their own right, not just on the track, Seb is not interested in the politics and who goes where and who does what. He just works amazingly hard to set up the best possible car to help him get pole and win the race, preferably with the fastest lap. For the politics, he has enough people around him at Red Bull who can take care of it.

F1 Champ Sebastian Vettel raced for me when he was 17S

Having had many drivers in the team, many who went on to F1, none amazed me as much as Seb and Justin Wilson. It’s just in their nature to be who they are without any hesitation or afterthought.


Alfonso de Orleans-Borbón is a Spanish Duke and the CEO of Racing Engineering, a motor racing team in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, who currently compete in GP2.

All photos by Racing Engineering. They show Vettel at his first Spanish Formula 3 race in Albacete in 2005, where he finished third behind Javier Villa García and José Manuel Pérez-Aicart.