The smile didn’t leave his face all weekend. It was abundantly clear that Sebastian Vettel was in his element at The Race of Champions – and that seems to have inspired him to try out more off-road motorsport in the future.
Vettel might not have had the ultimate outright pace of a few of his off-road counterparts, but it didn’t prevent him from ending runner-up to non-other than nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb.
The combination of snow and ice might not be a surface Vettel is overly familiar with – especially since he spends most of the year racing on perfectly maintained, smooth asphalt circuits – but last weekend showed that he definitely has potential in terms of rallying ability.
And although he admits he’s “still missing a little bit” in terms of outright performance, Vettel would be keen to try his hand at rallying if an opportunity presented itself.
“I need a lot of catching up,” Vettel explained to DirtFish.
“But I think I enjoy it a lot. I always enjoyed watching what they are doing. It’s a different discipline so you’re still having fun with a car but it’s just there are a lot of differences.
“It’s fascinating. We had a chat over lunch also to understand a little bit more, it’s not just that you’re in the car and you’re driving.
If somebody is willing to give me a shot and a chance and has a lot of time, I'm happy to look at itSebastian Vettel on the prospect of going rallying
“Very much like Formula 1 or in any category there’s a lot of work behind the scenes, doing your pacenotes and getting all the information you can, the same with us preparing the race and the analysis after.
“The sport progresses and there’s more to it than just driving which is also a challenge.
“So, for sure it’s not easy to just jump into it and be very good at it. You need the time and experience but if somebody is willing to give me a shot and a chance and has a lot of time, I’m happy to look at it.”
Making a transition to rallying would be something entirely different from anything Vettel has done before, bar the ROC outings, and in some ways the driving style required for rallying is polar opposite to the way he inherently likes to drive.
Vettel’s most successful period in Formula 1 was at the time of the double diffuser; a tool that enabled him to have the rear of the car glued to the ground so that it wouldn’t argue with him when he planted the throttle on the exit of a corner.
And in years since, Vettel has had moments where he has lost the rear of his car during the middle of a grand prix and he’s not been able to save it, resulting in a few bizarre incidents.
But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be any good at rallying. F1 cars are designed to behave in a very certain way, everything has to be inch perfect. But a rally car can be more forgiving in certain situations.
A rally car can allow a driver to trial new lines, or to attack corners in different ways and unlike single-seaters, it doesn’t always mean you lose significant amounts of time. And it’s this style of driving that Vettel enjoyed last weekend and one that he’d like to taste more of.
“I think it’s something that is as a driver very satisfying to play with the car and to have more margin,” Vettel said.
“Normally when the car steps out you correct it immediately and you’ve lost a bit of time.
“Here I think there’s much more grey. You are sideways, maybe the timing’s a little bit off but you can correct now.
“Of course, you need to get into that really small window to be perfect. And you saw the difference! But it’s definitely something I enjoy.”
Whether rallying is a viable option for Vettel remains to be seen, but if the opportunity did arise, you can guarantee that he’d jump at the chance, and there’s no doubt he’d be bearing a Daniel Ricciardo-like grin the entire time.