Sebastian Vettel, 2011 World Champion
Ayrton Senna. Alain Prost. Damon Hill. Michael Schumacher. Mika Hakkinen. Each Formula One icons. Each claimed the ultimate prize in motorsport. Each became champions at Suzuka.
Today, Sebastian Vettel joined them, securing his name as one of the all-time great competitors in our sport, and its youngest ever double World Champion.
Sebastian Vettel records
- Youngest double World Champion
- Youngest World Champion
- Youngest race winner
- Youngest race starter
- Youngest pole sitter
- Highest points percentage in a season
- Youngest win from pole
- Youngest win from pole with a fastest lap
- Youngest driver on the podium
It’s fitting in many ways that that he had to wait until Japan to claim his crown. Suzuka has been one of Red Bull’s – and, by association, Sebastian Vettel’s – happiest hunting grounds, their car so intrinsically suited the track’s sweeping bends and tricky corners.
Last year, after recording his second successive dominant victory, he exclaimed over team radio ‘this is our circuit!’, and few could disagree. Red Bull had been untouchable all weekend, as they had one year prior.
In 2009 and 2010, his win in Japan kept his championship aspirations alive in the most competitive of circumstances. In 2011, the race was a mere formality – Vettel only needing a single point, a tenth-place classification, to taste victory.
Sebastian Vettel – number one
It is interesting, then, that Japan 2011 was one of the team’s least successful races of the year. Their pace, apparently taken for granted, was matched on the most part by the likes of McLaren. And, had it not been for the slightest of delays from Hamilton exiting the pits during qualifying, Vettel may well have failed to start from pole. Instead, he claimed top spot by just nine-thousandths of a second from Button.
Were this the end of the season, Button would have been making Vettel work for his championship. But this year, his existence in the championship race was merely mathematical. Virtual. Unrealistic.
To any ordinary person, Button’s presence alongside Vettel down to turn one, and later his leading of the Grand Prix, would be meaningless. To cruise around in second or third would be enough.
Vettel, however, is no ordinary person. In his short four-and-a-half years as a Formula One driver, he has set out to dominate. Second isn’t enough. A win barely satisfies him. Only after heading home with a pole position, race win and fastest lap can he call his job done. Sebastian Vettel seeks the perfect weekend, the smoothest race meeting from driver and team.
Sebastian Vettel – double World Champion
Today’s race sums up his driving mentality clearly. With ten laps to go, and Vettel having surrendered the lead to Button, then second place to Alonso, he continued to push. His RBR7 resisted, its unusually cruel treatment of its Pirelli tyres limiting how much pace he could coax from his car.
He found enough speed to challenge Alonso for the second place on the podium anyway, and it looked for a while that the battle for first, second and third was on. But Vettel was interrupted briefly by lapped traffic, nullifying the sub-one-second space he worked hard to earn to Alonso. Then, in a rare showing of frustration behind the wheel, he raised his left hand and shook his fist in the backmarker’s direction.
And, as he raced to reduce the gap again, his team radio intervened, imploring him to hold position, and not to risk his championship on a pointless passing attempt on Alonso. Webber, who was fast closing on his teammate from fourth, was told to do the same.
With that, Vettel’s pace subsided, and he had five laps to make peace with the fact that his second World Championship would not be perfect.
While the same can be said of the entire year, it was just about as close to perfection as it could have been. Vettel’s domination was almost total. Near complete. Schumacher-esque. The confidence his first championship brought made him impossibly hungrier to taste success again, to subject his rivals to his raw pace. He was clinical in the execution of his plan, and his results say as much.
Sebastian Vettel – double World Champion
His blistering pace in Australia set the trend for 2011. His dominant win in Melbourne was the beginning of a streak of five wins from six rounds, with a midseason blip including a second place at Silverstone, a fourth at home in Germany and another second in Hungary giving way to a championship-crushing treble in Belgium, Italy and Singapore after the midseason break. The title was well beyond doubt, if anyone truly held any to begin with.
What’s most impressive about the season has been the way that Vettel has translated his car’s performance into results, while teammate Webber has been thus far unable to do so. His readiness to adapt to the season’s regulation tweaks, innovations, and tyres gave him the upper hand, while his skill did the rest. Mark Webber remains a great driver, but Vettel elevated himself into another league this season – one untouchable from Webber’s platform.
They call him ‘baby Schumi’. With nine wins and 12 pole positions so from the 15 races of the season so far, it’s easy to see why. But one wonders when Vettel will eclipse his childhood hero and Formula One’s old master. From here, it feels like it’s just around the corner.