Two Laps with a Legend: Riding with Sebastian Vettel

Two Laps with a Legend: Riding with Sebastian Vettel

Many automotive journalists think they can drive. Sure, some of them are able to deliver respectable lap times but quite a few believe they’re far more capable behind the wheel of a motor vehicle than they actually are.

Vettel3.jpgIt’s kind of like asking a chimpanzee to write a mystery novel. Put him in front of a keyboard and he’ll eventually bang out a couple words and throw some feces, but don’t expect more than that.

I’m certainly not afraid to admit I’m a member of the leisure club. Like grandma driving to Sunday service I take my sweet time snaking around autocross pylons or maneuvering on road courses. You could call me Captain Slow, but since that name has already been claimed by a world-renowned motoring scribe I’ll have to settle for something else. How about Admiral Lethargic?

It’s one thing to bomb around a circuit for a few hot laps, but it’s quite another when you ride shotgun with a trained professional. A real racing driver can make a vehicle do things you never thought possible. They can brake later, turning harder and accelerate through corners in way that seems to defy the mechanics of our universe.

Of course this applies to mere mortal drivers; beyond them are the superstars, the legends, the one-in-a-billion individuals that do the impossible every day. These people bend the very fabric of space and time with their skills and eat unsweetened depleted uranium for breakfast. Sebastian Vettel is one of these few.


The 26-year-old German already has four Formula One world titles under his belt along with countless other racing victories. But if that isn’t enough, his F1 championship wins are consecutive. Suffice to say he’s the sport’s undisputed man to beat right now.

Beyond this the Red Bull Racing driver is also Infiniti’s Director of Performance. He helped tune the new Q50 sedan’s cutting-edge Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) technology, dialing the system in so it’s just right.

Riding with Vettel for a couple hot laps is like getting the Beetles to play a few songs at your birthday party; under normal circumstances it just doesn’t happen. But if you’ve managed construct some sort of time machine John Lennon could theoretically be yours for an afternoon. Likewise if fortune smiles on your sorry soul, a ride with the legendary driver is certainly possible.

Vettle6.jpgNot long ago I was given just such an opportunity to make two (very) quick trips around a portion of the Nashville Superspeedway with Vettel at the helm. I strapped myself into the back seat of a staged Q50 and waited for the soft-spoken German to dispense with his current passengers.

After a minute or two he pulled into the pits and jumped from one car to the other. After a brief handshake and cursory greeting we were off in a flash, the car’s 3.7-liter V6 warbling at full song; moments later he’s got the Q50 slipping and rotating before we’re even out of the first corner.

As the latest Infiniti sports sedan snakes its way through cones and around curves I desperately clutch at both the grab handle and my lunch. It’s amazing what Vettel can make this road-going car do. Mothers will transport their kiddies to school in this vehicle and he’s drifting it around corners with the precision of a neurosurgeon rooting around in someone’s cerebellum.


There were a couple occasions when it felt like Vettel might just lose control, particularly at a spot where the circuit’s elevation changed abruptly, but it was no sweat. He was merely at the car’s handling limit; a dash of counter-steer straightened things right out. Did I just experience a Scandinavian flick?

Riding along with this maestro of motoring is a completely humbling experience. Circling the same track a little later with me in the driver’s seat revealed just how much faster and more capable Vettel is, but that’s absolutely no surprise. He gets paid big bucks to drive a fast as humanly possible and I get paid considerably less to bang away on a keyboard all day (though I’m not responsible for any projectile feces). My five minutes spent with him will not soon be forgotten. But as much fun as the whole experience was you know something? I think I like the slow lane better.

GALLERY: 2014 Infiniti Q50


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