Vettel finished 13th in the points last year, his worst position since his rookie BMW/Toro Rosso part-season in 2007. His tally of 33 points last year was barely one third of that teammate Charles Leclerc scored, and Vettel admitted he considered retirement before signing with Aston for 2021.
But Szafnauer believes he can create an environment for Vettel at Aston Martin for him to thrive once more, and is willing to put an “arm around his shoulder” if necessary.
“I’ve always said, and will continue to say so, at 33 years old you don’t forget how to drive a Formula 1 car fast,” said Szafnauer on a call with select media including Motorsport.com. “So it’s got to be other things. And we will work tirelessly to make sure that we don’t introduce those things, and actually alleviate them.
“An arm around the shoulder means that everybody’s listening to his wants and his needs. And we’ll work hard to make sure the car is to his liking and the setup is like he wants it.
“We’ve got two drivers to look after. And if we treat them equally, which in the past we’ve been really good at doing and I anticipate we’ll do that in the future as well, I think that’s all it takes with Seb. And then if he doesn’t overdrive the car, drives like he can, and we will definitely get the best out of him.”
Szafnauer says his other driver, Lance Stroll, will have to bring his A-game to face this new challenge, after being beaten in the championship in his two years with Racing Point by outgoing teammate Sergio Perez.
“To beat Sebastian Vettel, you’re gonna have to work hard,” he said. “Sebastian’s got a great work ethic. And we’re working really hard to make sure that Sebastian feels comfortable at our team, and we get him back up to his best. So it’ll be very interesting.
“Does [Lance] have the wherewithal to do it? Absolutely. But, like I said, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. And I would imagine Sebastian is going to also try to beat his teammate.”
Szafnauer also clarified exactly what happened when he was spotted giving Vettel a lift in his Ferrari Pista road car to a petrol station during the British Grand Prix weekend last year, saying it unfolded as Sebastian had explained at the time.
He said: “We drove to the gas station because of the car I was driving, and he had a similar one. He doesn’t have a similar one anymore! Because he sold them all.
“But, yeah, that was the reason for the drive. And I think he was going off to do, if I remember right, some mountain biking in Wales and his direction was the same direction that I was going in. And we were both stopping at the fuel station. So he said, ‘Well, I’ll jump in with you.’
“And I’ve known Seb, gosh, for 20-plus years now, before he was in Formula 1, when he was still a BMW driver. So he’s been a friend for a long time. And I’ve known his parents for a while as well. So, it wasn’t anything different than what he said.”