Sebastian Vettel enjoyed a relaxed press conference ahead of his last F1 race before retirement, and explained how his infamous Baku crash with Lewis Hamilton had improved their friendship.
Hamilton‘s notably distant with many drivers in the F1 paddock, especially the younger generation led by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris, but his bond with Vettel has blossomed despite the pair being title rivals for most of their careers.
However, their relationship hit its nadir at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix when Vettel deliberately hit Hamilton behind the safety car after he thought the Brit had brake-checked him.
“I think Baku for me wasn’t a great moment because of what I did wasn’t right but I don’t want that to know not happen,” Vettel told the media ahead of the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“I think from that moment onwards…” he started, “our friendship got better” Hamilton finished, “I think we always had such great battles, honestly.”
The pair battled for the world championship for most of the 2010s but rarely had cars completely equal in performance.
At the peak of his powers with Red Bull, Vettel won four consecutive titles but after the rise of Mercedes in 2014, he moved to Ferrari and couldn’t string a full campaign together and never took the title battle to the final race.
The Baku crash came in the midst of one of those seasons, Vettel led heading into the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend but was unable to sustain that and Hamilton wrapped up the championship with two races still to go.
Fernando Alonso was also present to face the media alongside Vettel, the Spaniard was Vettel‘s main challenger from 2010-13.
“It’s going to be strange to not have him in next year,” Alonso said, “We share so many things.
“Over the last 15 years, sometimes we fought for championships, sometimes for seventh place, and we still obviously always enjoy every single battle and respected each other as much as we could.”
Though pushed at the press conference, he refused to name one highlight moment from his career.
“I don’t think it’s fair to pick one,” Vettel said. “I obviously can’t speak for an hour now and I don’t really want to but I think I’ve been lucky that there’s been so many moments to choose from.
“I guess that was the ‘firsts’ always stand out but every era had its highlights, even the last two years from a sporting point of view maybe they weren’t really a highlight, but I think I learned a lot, progressed, grew and had a good time together with the team.”