SEBASTIAN Vettel became the youngest ever double Formula 1 world champion after crossing the line third in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old has led the title charge from the very first race in Melbourne in March and has hardly put a foot wrong all season, picking up nine wins on his way to his second consecutive championship.
Needing just a point to secure the crown, Vettel finished behind the only man who could stop him from taking the title, McLaren’s Jenson Button, and the man who he takes over as F1’s youngest double champion, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in an exciting Japanese Grand Prix.
But while he didn’t seal the 2011 title with a win, Vettel was delighted that he could finally carry on calling himself the champion and paid tribute to the factory workers at Tilbrook for their efforts all season long.
“It’s just been such a long and fantastic year, which still isn’t over yet,” he said. “We had a strong race to be able to win the championship here, so it’s fantastic.
“We have found ourselves in a very strong position this season and it’s great to be able to achieve this goal already. In moments like these, there are so many things you want to say and so many people you want to thank: all the people here at the track and back at the factory in Milton Keynes, who work day in and day out.
“Everything we have achieved this year, we have achieved as a team. From the post office, to the design office to the engineering office, to out here on the track, it’s unbelievable.
“We set ourselves the challenge of winning the championship, and we’ve done it.
“And with so many races to go, it’s difficult to put into words.”
Team boss Christian Horner praised his young charge, saying he is now among the F1 elite.
“Firstly, it’s phenomenal for Sebastian Vettel to win his second World Championship,” he said. “He’s driven magnificently this year and thoroughly deserves this Championship victory, which he has dominated since the first race in Melbourne.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and team work and he can be very proud of what he’s achieved.
“This now places him amongst an elite group of drivers who have realised not only a double Championship – but back-to-back World Championships.”
Neither Red Bull driver though will claim Sunday’s race at Suzuka among their finest performances of the season as the usually invincible RB7 looked to be wearing out their Pirelli tyres at a greater rate than its rivals.
Vettel started from pole position but Button got a better start. Vettel moved over to defend his position, forcing the Brit onto the grass in the run up to the first turn.
He would eventually slip behind both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso during his pitstops as his tyres went off.
It appeared Vettel had the pace to battle with Alonso in the closing stages though – the Ferrari notoriously slow on the harder compound tyres this season – but with the championship so close, the German was told to back off by his team to wrap up the title.
Mark Webber, starting from sixth on the grid, held his position from the grid, but managed to pick off Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton as they struggled to keep up with the pace of the leading trio.
And Webber felt he could have battled with Alonso for a podium finish but for a coming together with Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher in the latter part of the race, damaging the Australian’s front wing.
As a result of the collision, the safety car bunched the field back up again, altering strategies up and down the pitlane, forcing Webber to settle for fourth place.
Webber though paid tribute to his team-mate for wrapping up the championship, but was disappointed not to be setting foot on the podium alongside him.
He said: “Congratulations to Sebastian – to become a double World Champion is a very good job. All the overtaking during the race was in the pit stops today.
“We passed a Ferrari and a McLaren, but it was quite even between all of us.
“I had some contact with Michael Schumacher, which did some damage to my front wing at a crucial part of the race as I was trying to come back through the pack. We made contact, but he got away with it.
“The Safety Car didn’t really come at the right time for me – as I was hoping to have a look at Fernando around the stops.
“In the end it was a reasonable result; it was a great race for Jenson, it’s his second home race in many ways, and congratulations to Seb for the title.”
With the drivers’ championship wrapped up, Vettel and Red Bull must now concentrate on securing the constructors’ championship. The Tilbrook team have a 130 point lead over McLaren, with four rounds and 172 points still on offer.
Webber too still has the chance on taking second place in the championship, though he trails Button by 26 points.
But there is not much time to enjoy their championship success, as they have to prepare for the Korean Grand Prix, with free practice starting on Friday morning.