Tuesday 20 March 2018

F1: 'Baby Schumi' Vettel seizes unlikely title

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning yesterday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and with it becoming F1's youngest World Champion. Photo: Reuters
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning yesterday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and with it becoming F1's youngest World Champion. Photo: Reuters

Tom Cary in Abu Dhabi

Drenched in champagne and sweat, blinking into the flashbulbs, Sebastian Vettel was at a loss to express his emotions. "It's unbelievable. Just unbelievable," he kept mumbling at no one in particular.

The 23-year-old had begun uttering that word while choking back tears on his victory lap an hour earlier. "You're the world champion," Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner had screamed. "You are the man!" "Thank you guys," Vettel had stammered in reply. "Unbelievable. I love you."

Inside the helmet, his brain was trying to process what had just taken place. "To be honest I did not know anything," Vettel recalled later.

"In the last 10 laps, my engineer Rocky (Guillaume Rocquelin) was giving me advice to help me get the car home. I wondered why he was so nervous. I thought we must be in a good position. Then he said, 'It's looking good'. I didn't know what he meant. I just focused on myself, and then they came on the radio and screamed we have won the world championship. I'm speechless."


It was fairly unbelievable; an extraordinary end to an extraordinary season. Unbelievable that Fernando Alonso, who, with Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber behind him, needed only to finish fourth to be sure of securing his third world crown, should fall victim to a disastrous decision by his team Ferrari and spend the race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov's Renault.

Unbelievable that Vettel, who hadn't led this year's championship until yesterday, should emerge victorious. That he should have come from 25 points behind with two races remaining.

Ferrari will be kicking themselves. For all the talk of team orders and questioning of Alonso's worthiness to be champion, the Spaniard had been brilliant in the second half of the season.

Yes, the governing body was wrong not to dock him the seven points he won at Hockenheim when Felipe Massa was ordered to make way for him, but if he had triumphed yesterday his victory would have met with grudging respect even from his greatest detractors.

The Spaniard was inconsolable at the end, sitting at the back of his team's motorhome in stunned silence.

Maybe he should have seen it coming. From the moment German newspaper 'Bild' dropped a banana skin in front of his car on the grid for a contrived photo opportunity, nothing went Alonso's way. Spain's attendant King Juan Carlos seemed to sense it too, admonishing Martin Brundle for suggesting his subject was the title favourite. "It's bad luck," he said.

So it proved. Starting third, Alonso ignored his team's instructions to keep his car on the clean side of the grid, instead swerving to try to cut off McLaren's Jenson Button. The Englishman reached the first corner in the lead.

Still, Alonso was set fair. As a safety car came out following Michael Schumacher's near decapitation at the hands of Force India's Tonio Liuzzi, the Spaniard held fourth place. With Webber behind him in fifth, it would have been enough.

It all went wrong following the restart, though, when Webber pitted complaining of rear-tyre degradation. Ferrari decided to 'cover' him as their nearest challenger, and Alonso dived in soon after. It was the race's key moment.

Emerging in 14th, just ahead of the Australian, Alonso found himself in traffic behind Petrov. He never made it past the Russian, allowing Vettel to control the race from the front.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who retained an outside chance of the title if he could win the race, was his only serious challenger. But after pitting on lap 23 the Englishman emerged behind Renault's other driver Robert Kubica. There was no way past. The Pole didn't stop until lap 46, by which time Vettel, whose own pit-stop on 24 had been lightning quick and got him out in front of Kubica, had a 13-second cushion.

At 23 years and 135 days, Vettel has usurped Hamilton as the sport's youngest champion by 166 days.

Red Bull's celebrations were raw, epic and tinged with sadness. The heart went out to Webber. The Australian arrived in Abu Dhabi on Alonso's shoulder, confident he could capture his maiden title at the age of 34. He deserved to do so after a season in which he has battled heroically.

Webber congratulated his team-mate and promised he would be back to take it off him next season. In the end, though, no one could argue that Vettel did not deserve his title. The man hailed as 'Baby Schumi' by the German press after becoming F1's youngest race winner at Monza in 2008 has been in unstoppable form in the latter part of the year.

"This race started in daylight and I think it's going to end in daylight too," he grinned when asked how he would celebrate. Just then, someone strolled past wearing a T-shirt bearing the legend: 'Vettel: 2010 world champion'. Clearly not everyone was so surprised. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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