SEBASTIAN Vettel has just been crowned the youngest ever three-time World Formula One champion, but it seems that driving isn't his only talent – now he is designing cars as well.
Admittedly, not quite the whole vehicle, but the parts that in this case turn an average medium-sized sports utility into a £100,000 supercar alternative.
As part of the Red Bull racing sponsorship package from Infiniti (who will be the team's title sponsor for the 2013 season) the young German is provided with a top of the range Infiniti FX50 as his every-day run-around – when he is not in one of his Porsche GT3s.
But it appears that the triple champion wasn't completely satisfied with £58,000 worth of V8 powered four-by-four so he asked if he could have a few extras and add his own customised tweaks.
Infiniti bosses thought it was such a good idea that they decided to take his ideas and turn them into a limited edition run of just 150 cars – 50 coming to Europe and just ten of those in right-hand drive for the UK.
Oh – and did I mention that they have also almost doubled the price of the finished car at an eye popping £100,800 – however if you own one you are very unlikely to ever see another on the road so exclusivity is almost guaranteed.
The most obvious components inspired by Vettel's race experience are the drag reducing multi-layer front spoiler with integrated LED daytime running lights, side skirts, bodycoloured wheel arches, roof rails, rear diffuser with centrally located F1 inspired LED fog light, twin exhaust pipes and roof spoiler – the latter costing an extra £4,800.
Most of these components have been crafted out of 13 pieces of carbon fibre, the real thing not mock plastic, and their design was assisted by aerodynamisists from Red Bull Racing.
Enhancing the wind-cheating finished look the suspension has been lowered by 20mm and the Vettel version is fitted with lighter 21 inch BBS light-alloy black wheels and a trio of Vettel badges.
Inside the cabin is also littered with carbon fibre on areas such as the centre console, door trims and above the glove box which manages to liven up a somewhat anaemic Japanese dashboard littered with lots of dials and switches some of them set too low to be easily accessible.
To give it an added air of opulence Alcantara replaces sections of the 14-way electrically adjustable leather front seats and also appears on the A and B pillars and the roof lining.
The specification is good but not exceptional for a vehicle in this class, there is satellite navigation, climate control, Bluetooth and a top grade sound system but no heads-up display.
Under the wide rounded bonnet the normally aspirated 5-litre petrol engine remains almost unchanged from the FX50, however, exhaust modifications boost power output by 30bhp over the standard V8 to 420bhp which clips two-tenths off the red-lights out time with 62mph arriving in 5.6 seconds before hitting the 155mph limiter.
On the other side of the coin it is going to struggle to better 20mpg and will be hard hit by the Chancellor for its 307 g/km emissions rating.
To be honest, while the FX Vettel looks great there is some disappointment that is doesn't perform and handle any better than the standard FX. Throttle response is somewhat delayed so it's like being back in the early turbo era until the 529Nm of torque thrust suddenly kicks in and hurtles the FX down the road.
The best fun is to be had by using the steering wheel paddle shifts to manipulate the seven-speed automatic transmission and then you can induce that roar from the exhaust on quick down shifts.
Despite dropping the ride height and adding 30 per cent more down force and five per cent less drag, the vehicle is surprisingly compliant and not uncomfortable offering a good solid feel on the road and for added variation there is the ability to switch the Damping Control suspension setting from automatic to a slightly firmer sport mode.
What you can't see but can certainly hear is the tuning on the exhaust which gives it a distinctive high pitched V8 rasp when fired up – not unlike an F1 car. Now I wonder where they got the idea for that?
The basic FX50s, all of them painted Moonlight White, will be shipped from the production line in Japan to Car Research & Development (part of the Brabus Group) in Germany where the changes take place.
Customers are presented with an iPad on ordering with which they can watch, via satellite, as their car goes down the production line and is transformed from a humble FX into the head turning FX Vettel.
In addition owners will be offered some exclusive Infiniti experiences such as track days, simulator drives and passenger rides in race cars.
Infiniti admit that very few British motorists are going to be in a position to afford to own the FX Vettel but they see it as a very worthwhile promotional exercise and they are hoping to use owners as brand ambassadors – five of the ten for the UK have already found homes.
The FX Vettel goes into production in February with first customers getting their cars in March.
For those without the £100,000 budget the standard FX range goes from £46,780 to £58,280 and includes the choice of four trim levels and three engine options: a 3.7-litre 320bhp V6 petrol, the already mentioned 5-litre 390bhp V8 petrol and a 3-litre 238bhp V6 diesel.
The FX 30d is by far the best seller, thanks to the superior fuel economy of the diesel engine at 31mpg and the lowest emissions level at 238 g/km.
It is a perfectly adequate SUV with lots of kit, a comfortable ride and acceptable levels of performance – but wouldn't you rather have the FX Vettel?