F1 Champion, Infiniti Director of Performance Sebastian Vettel pushes Q50 to the limit in Canada
Now I understand why the television commericals say, “Professional driver, closed course. Do not attempt.” Four-time defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel almost surely drove around each of the 10 undulating turns at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park faster than anyone else in a street-legal, road-spec sedan under $50,000.
His weapon? The Infiniti Q50S RWD. And if you never considered it a contender, this is your warning. I was suspecting greatness during our drive, but not like this.
The Q50S and its variants – and any other model within the Infiniti lineup for that matter – have long been praised as a luxury marque that offers value on the dollar. That’s enough to peek our interest, but beyond that, the brand has been searching for its hero.
Infiniti found it in human form when it signed on as the primary sponsor for Red Bull’s Formula 1 team, gaining the invaluable experience of Sebastian Vettel and giving him the role of Infiniti’s Director of Performance last year. But it hasn’t been until recently that the German’s insight and feedback have been able to produce the company’s automotive equivalent of that hero.
Sure, there was the FX Vettel Edition SUV, which pushed 414 horsepower and received a vast amount of handling and aero upgrades, but that was a limited production run of only 200 units and the public never saw the outcome of his work. In proper car format, the Q50 is essentially the first mass-market project Vettel has been able to immerse himself into in just over a year at the post.
It only takes one lap around the track which many seasoned professionals rank as the most difficult in the world to show his work has been well done.
Exiting the pits and cresting the hill into the off-camber, downhill, double apex of turn two, the speed Vettel was able to carry in the Q50S literally pulled me away and in the opposite direction my seat was travelling.
His involvement on the Q50 has largely been that of tester and feedback specialist, working with engineers and mechanical staff to improve three key areas of Infiniti’s latest offering: steering, braking and body control and suspension – each of which translate directly into the visceral experience and overall handling characteristics of the drive, which has evolved leaps and bounds over previous Infiniti offerings. His favourite aspect of the car? “The steering.”
The fact is, regardless of Vettel’s insurmountable capabilities, the Q50 is the car which now lays claim as my most limit-pushing experience around the former home of the Canadian Grand Prix. The car was pushed as hard as it could be and felt completely controlled and civilized, even at speeds climbing to, and dropping from, 270 km/h. The pilot might have had much to do with it, but any kink in the Q50S’s armour would have become clearly prevalent at the hands of a driver like Vettel. Instead, it shone brightly.
The relationship between Infiniti and Vettel could easily be a marketing exercise, but instead, his input and performance mindset are being weighed on heavily by the brand and its engineers.
The latest project on Vettel’s docket? The Q50 Eau Rouge Concept, offering supercar performance in a luxury sedan. And while the company is keeping a tight lid on future plans, all signs are pointing to production of the 560 horsepower twin-turbo halo car, with a greater aim on performance throughout the brand’s lineup.
“Projects like the Eau Rouge obviously are more my flavour, naturally with my performance coming from Formula One,” Vettel said. “For the future, I’m not sure how much I can say, but there will be more [models] in that regard – more coming.”
In the meantime, it’s evident the handling and performance of Infiniti’s most popular sedan has benefited from the F1 Champion’s input. As for future models, we’ll have to wait and see, but it appears that Infiniti’s attack on German automakers might just come from a man on the inside.
Photography courtesy of Infiniti Canada