A second World Championship for Sebastian Vettel moves the 24-year-old German into the elite group of drivers who have won titles twice in a row — although no one else has managed the feat at such a young age.
This year’s drivers’ title has, on the face of it, come much more easily than the first. Last season early mechanical problems and his clash with Mark Webber in Turkey badly compromised Vettel’s title campaign.
In contrast he started the 2011 season with an amazing run, establishing a lead that looked increasingly secure. He has made virtually no mistakes and demonstrated total mastery of the complex rules, making the most of DRS, KERS and tyre strategy to log win after win.
Even on days when everything hasn’t gone to plan Vettel has nearly always made the podium. He is also extremely adept at getting the car to work for him, as his string of pole positions demonstrate.
“He’s been phenomenal this year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Motor Sport. “I think the confidence Seb took out of winning the title last year seemed to carry through the winter into Melbourne, and he’s been peerless since then. He’s raised the bar.
“In reality 2010 was a difficult year for him. It all came right in the end, but he had some difficult challenges and criticism and so on, which he shouldered brilliantly behind the scenes. And I think he’s just grown from that. He has emerged clearly as an absolutely superb driver this year. He’s marked himself down in history as a double World Champion, and as the youngest driver to do that.
“A lot of the races this year have been hard fought for him. You’ve only got to think of Monaco, Barcelona — they were tough races. Operationally as a team we’ve grown stronger, and Seb has as well. On days when we’ve had the best package we’ve utilised it, and on days when perhaps we haven’t we have still maximised our opportunities.”
Talent is one thing, but Vettel has learned the value of hard work from his countryman and early mentor, Michael Schumacher.
“Tactically he’s very smart, disciplined and self-analytical,” said Horner. “You’ll see him in the paddock late on a Saturday evening. After qualifying he’s usually one of the last to leave. He’s hungry for information, hungry to improve. He’s like a sponge, he soaks it all up.”
One of Vettel’s great strengths this year has been his understanding of the Pirelli tyres, and Webber admits his team-mate has got a much better handle on the supersoft compound, which has been especially advantageous in qualifying. Horner said: “He’s understood the tyre characteristics. Sometimes he’s been able to make the stint length on that tyre remarkably long, and he’s managed the tyres well. Some of the laps he’s done on a Saturday, under acute pressure, he’s absolutely delivered.”
Despite his devotion to duty Vettel remains an extremely well-rounded individual. He is the same modest, witty and cheerful guy that he was when he first appeared, and he is immensely popular not just with the public but most significantly his fellow drivers. A worthy World Champion? Few, if any, would deny it.
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