History: Back-to-back title glory for Sebastian Vettel
Published 09/10/2011 | 09:26
Sebastian Vettel today became the youngest back-to-back and double world champion in Formula One history.
It was not with the glory he had hoped for with a victory in Japan as that honour went to Jenson Button, the in-form Briton taking the chequered flag for the third time this year.
But Vettel at least finished on the podium at Suzuka with a third place to take the acclaim of the crowd.
Vettel now joins an elite club, becoming only the ninth driver to win successive titles along with Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso.
Over the team radio, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: "Sebastian you're the 2011 world champion. Well done."
In reply, an emotional Vettel said: "Thank you so much every single one, every single one. We took nothing for granted and we did it."
At 24 years and 99 days Vettel has beaten the record previously held by Fernando Alonso, who triumphed with Renault in 2005 and 2006, by just under a year.
Following the warm-down lap Vettel exited his car and joined in with the rest of the team in a mass group hug.
For the record Vettel is now 114 points clear of Button, with only 100 available from the remaining races in Korea next Sunday, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
There is still the constructors' title up for grabs, but like the drivers' crown, that is also virtually all over bar the shouting as Red Bull are comfortably clear of McLaren.
It was a day to savour for Button, though, who was the victim of an aggressive start from Vettel as the German defended his lead from pole.
It was hardly in the category of the infamous duels between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at the Suzuka circuit in 1989 and 1990, but nevertheless, it was feisty stuff from Vettel as he moved across to his right to cut off Button, forcing him to back off and put two wheels on the grass, losing second to team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the process.
Immediately Button jumped onto the team radio to proclaim: "He's gotta get a penalty for that I think, he's gotta get a penalty for that!"
The stewards clearly heard his words, but upon investigation opted not to penalise Vettel, allowing him to eke out a lead in the early stages rather than add a touch of spice to proceedings.
But this was not one of those races in which he could sail off into the distance untroubled as the expected high tyre degradation of the Pirellis soon took effect.
Hamilton was the first to suffer, incurring a small puncture to his right-rear tyre that led to him running wide on lap nine, allowing Button to sail by underneath him to his left.
It was Vettel, though, who was in trouble the most as he was the first to pit for a second time after 19 laps, and at a point in the race when Button was closing at a rate of knots.
The 31-year-old then produced a flying lap, doing enough to emerge narrowly ahead of his rival as they headed into turn one, with the appropriate name of First Curve.
It proved pivotal as Button was able to open up a small advantage, one he maintained after the third stop, and on through to the end, despite a late charge from second-placed Alonso in his Ferrari.
There was one moment of consternation for Button when the safety car had to be deployed after 25 laps due to debris on the track from two separate incidents.
The first involved - almost inevitably - Hamilton and Felipe Massa, the Brazilian losing the right front-wing endplate to his Ferrari after failing with a manoeuvre around the outside heading into the chicane.
Unsurprisingly, the stewards announced an investigation into the incident, the fourth between the duo this year, and so soon after their disagreement a fortnight ago in Singapore.
But just before the safety car exited after three laps, they decided no punishment was needed.
Hamilton, though, was forced to settle for second best in his team again, finishing fifth behind Red Bull's Mark Webber, with Michael Schumacher sixth in his Mercedes and Massa seventh.
Sauber's Sergio Perez, Renault's Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes, from 23rd on the grid, claimed the remainder of the points, with Force India's Paul di Resta 12th.
Asked to sum up his thoughts on his latest title triumph, Vettel puffed out his cheeks and said: "It's difficult. I don't know where to start."
He then proceeded to deliver a three-minute soliloquy, adding: "We made such a fantastic start to the season.
"But today's race was not that easy, not as good as we hoped to be on the soft tyres, but a a strong result again.
"To win the championship here is fantastic, and there are so many things you want to say, but it's hard to remember all of them.
"We've so many fantastic people working very hard, pushing hard to build these two cars, to fight for the points and championships.
"We've found ourselves in a very strong position and it's great to achieve the goal we set ourselves at the start of the year."
Button, a popular winner as he has effectively made Japan his second home, naturally offered his congratulations to Vettel.
"This gives us, as a team, a lot of motivation," said Button.
"Three cars within two seconds of one another shows how competitive Formula One is at the moment.
"I believe we've done something here to plant a good memory in the minds of the Japanese people after a tough year.
"But lastly it should be Sebastian we talk about this year because this guy has done a great job, so congratulations."