The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the 299th and final start for Sebastian Vettel, having decided midway through 2022 that this season would be his last. As one of the most successful drivers in the history of F1, Vettel has been adored by fans and people within the paddock for years. It comes as no surprise that Charles Leclerc, a former teammate, was saddened by the news that Vettel would leave the sport. "It's sad for me," he said back in July. "It's going to be strange to not see Seb inside the paddock. "I've learned so much driving with him and he's always been super nice with me. I will definitely miss him in the paddock, but I wish him the best." When Leclerc joined Ferrari, he was seen as the young protege to Vettel, the four-time world champion leading the team while the Monegasque planted the seeds for eventual success. That early relationship was key for Leclerc and its what eventually materialised into their friendship off track. "There are many moments with Seb that I remember well. Not necessarily moments on the track, but also moments at the factory," he explains. "When I arrived at Ferrari in the first year I was very impressed with Seb. It was probably very strange for him because I was very shy and didn't know what to say when I was around him. "Now I can call him a friend and he texts me regularly. He did that again this year after my crash in France, Seb always tries to make me feel better when I'm going through a difficult period. "It's nice to see how our relationship has evolved since I first met him."
Learning from the four-time world champion
Fast forward to later in the season and RacingNews365 sits down with Leclerc one-to-one, asking if he is still in contact with Vettel following his retirement news. "Of course, we still text each other. It's not like we send each other messages every week, but whenever there is obviously a big thing coming up, we always text," he says. "I think everybody's going to miss him because Seb is a very, very nice person to be a Formula 1 driver. He's really a genuinely nice person." Leclerc has mostly been impressed with Vettel's work ethic over the years, recalling some of the things that he has picked up on over the years while at Ferrari. "He's the hardest worker in the Formula 1 paddock for sure," says Leclerc. "When I came from Formula 2 to Alfa Romeo and then to Ferrari, I would arrive at the team in the morning, and he would already have been up for an hour and a half!
Vettel is the hardest worker in the paddock for sure
Charles Leclerc on Vettel's work ethic
"I took that quite a bit from him, because now I'm actually in pretty early and out pretty late. "It was good to see him arrive so early and leaving so late, but in the first times I was like 'What is he looking at? What does he need so much time for?'" Observing that work ethic, Leclerc notes how he is now using the same techniques as he assumes the role of team leader at Ferrari. "With experience and speaking with him, there was always very little details that I was not really taking care of at the beginning which he was looking at and made the difference," he says. "So there are a lot of things that I learned from him, especially at that stage of my career, when I was very young. "To have such an experienced driver, such a successful driver as Seb next to me as a teammate, it was a great achievement and helped me a lot."
Vettel not Leclerc's only mentor
Prior to making it to F1, Leclerc had a mentor in the late Jules Bianchi. The Frenchman was racing in F1 and on the ascendancy to a drive with Ferrari, before a tragic accident during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix led to his death. Along with their families being close, Bianchi was also Leclerc's godfather, and helped him in his early years during go-karting. "I learned a lot from Jules, naturally. When I was younger we always raced karts together. "I was much younger but we took about the same kart and added some weight to mine and then we I think that helped me a lot in terms of racecraft and many other areas." Leclerc now finds himself playing a similar role with brother Arthur Leclerc, who is currently competing in F1 feeder-series Formula 3 under the Ferrari Driver Academy. "With my little brother, the approach is a little different [to Bianchi], even though it was about the same at the time. "When Jules raced with me, I also raced with my little brother in rented karts. "Technically there wasn't much to learn, but in terms of racecraft, vision and how to manage a race was very important. "I always try to let my little brother figure it out for himself," he continues. "My father did that for me too and I found it very helpful. When you end up in an environment that you don't know very well, when you are so young and often very alone in a big sport, it is good that you develop. "So I try to let Arthur do it alone, but he knows he can always call me if he needs my help. I would love to see him here in Formula 1."