Sebastian Vettel: Why it's the right time to retire from Formula One

Sebastian Vettel will retire from Formula One at the end of the season. Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- The morning after this year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel will wake up as a former F1 driver. There will be no contract for next year, no car to develop over the winter and no chance -- no matter how slim -- of standing on the top of another F1 podium.

After 16 years racing in the top category of motorsport, in which he secured four world titles and 53 race victories, Vettel admits it's an unsettling feeling. Yet, somehow, it still feels right.

"I guess because of the type of person I am, I like to know what's coming," he said in a news conference on Thursday after announcing his retirement. "I like to have certainty about what's next and that's very difficult now because there is zero certainty about what's next.

"So to make friends with that wasn't easy and still isn't easy, but it feels like the right thing to do."

His decision to retire from F1 was made final when he broke the news to his Aston Martin team on Wednesday and was made public when he announced it via Instagram on Thursday. But this wasn't a snap, or easy, decision.

"The timeline [of the decision] takes us back years," he said. "It's not a decision I made overnight. The final decision was taken yesterday by telling the team I am going to stop and not going to continue, but there was a lot of thought leading into this.

"I think it's the right time for me to do other things. I know how intense this job is and how much dedication goes into this and if you do this I am convinced you have to do it the right way."

Vettel is a complex man and this was a complex decision.

There was no single factor that tipped the balance, although he made clear that spending more time with his wife and three young children was near the top of his priorities for the future. His growing concerns about environmental issues -- and where F1 stood in addressing those problems -- was also a clear factor and was undoubtedly one that helped tip the balance in favour of leaving a sport he still loves.

"So much dedication goes in to racing in F1 and that also means a lot of time in your head and with your thoughts, but also physically time away from home, from kids and family," he explained. "I have grown other things, other than the children, other interests and views have grown and I can't ignore these voices.

"So ultimately, the questions got bigger and bigger and more central, to a point where I make the decision. It's not a 100% or 0% decision, it's not like I hate racing from now on, I still love racing, but it's probably the majority that pulls me in a different direction.

"I'm not making way [for someone else], because it's my decision, but I'm happy to head in a different direction."

Balancing being a Formula One driver while trying to raise awareness about climate change has always been a tightrope for Vettel. He has admitted to a level of hypocrisy in trying to do both, but insists that wasn't the defining factor in his decision.

"I don't mind people calling me a hypocrite because I know I am myself -- I don't need to be told. Once you see these things, you look around and the whole room is full of hypocrites in this regard.

"But it's not about how much of a hypocrite you are or you are not, it's about how much you can do. And some of us can do a lot and others can do very little, but it all makes a difference.

"It wouldn't be fair to sit here and say that as an excuse. And it would be also the wrong driver behind a decision like that. I've done this my entire life, it's been the centre of my life for so long and it's probably better to sum it up like I have before with things growing with the awareness.

"My children are literally growing every day, my family, but then other interests, other things that I would like to spend more time on. The answer also is whether these things satisfy you enough, and I don't know. Time will tell.

"It's always the case when you decide to head into a different direction, you don't always know what's waiting for you behind the corner. But I am very curious to find out what's next rather than hang on to what's now."

But that doesn't mean Vettel won't miss F1. The thrill of driving the fastest car on the planet is unimaginable for those of us who have never experienced it, but can be fiendishly addictive for those that have.

Asked what he would miss most, Vettel added: "The buzz of driving the car. There are still fast cars and the adrenaline you get fighting on the track, of course I thought about that as well. I will say no to that and there's probably no replacement.

"I've also looked at others and how they handled and tried to maybe find something else that tried to give them the adrenaline buzz or rush, but as far as I can tell now, it's something you have to be prepared for.

"I feel I am prepared to as much as I can today, to say that it's gone and will not be there. I'm sure if I want to race something, my kids want to race me every day in all sorts of things -- some I enjoy more and some I enjoy less.

"But if I want to race more I'm sure I will be able to think of something. But I think it would be wrong to step away knowing that you still want to race."

The good news is Vettel seems entirely at peace with his decision. There can be no progress without change and Vettel believes the world beyond F1's paddock gates offers more opportunities than the small and often insular world inside it.

"I think for every sportsman and woman, probably the biggest challenge is waiting for us when we decide to do other things," he said. "That's what I'm facing and in all honesty, I'm also scared of what's coming.

"It might be a hole and I don't know how deep it is and whether I'll get out of it. But I have lots of support and people who have supported me along the way and will continue to help me and give me direction and guidance.

"Hopefully I'll make the right decisions in the future to progress and become a better version of myself in 10 years time."