Grand Prix Scene

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Vettel win ‘icing on cake’ for Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel earned himself a place in the record books at Abu Dhabi when he became the youngest World Champion in Formula 1 history, although the man himself modestly admitted that Lewis Hamilton — whose previous mark he beat by some six months — could have won his first title a year earlier than he did.

Remarkably the 23-year-old is the first champion since James Hunt in 1976 not to lead the standings until the end of the final day of the season. He is also the fifth World Champion in as many years, the longest streak of different winners since the run of seven from 1976-82.

While Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Hamilton were all left rueing misfortunes that befell them during the course of the season, the consensus is that Vettel more than deserved the title. After a mid-year wobble, when it appeared that the stress of the contest was getting to him, he fought back to totally dominate the last four races of the season. Had he not lost out in Korea, when his engine failed a few laps from home, his victory would have been a lot more decisive.

“The constructors’ [title] was a massive result for the entire team,” team principal Christian Homer told Motor Sport. “Even if we’d only won that this year it would have been a huge, huge achievement. We’ve won nine Grands Prix, had 20 podiums and 15 pole positions, and it’s just unbelievable.

“I genuinely thought we probably had a 30 chance with Mark [Webber] and 20 per cent chance with Seb of winning in Abu Dhabi. We came here and per cent thought let’s give it everything. It all panned out perfectly for Sebastian, he drove a great race.

“The constructors’ was the big one for the team, and the drivers’ was the icing on the cake. We decided to back both drivers absolutely equally, to not interfere, to give them the same support, the same equipment. There were a lot of people who questioned the philosophy, but I think it’s been vindicated. At the end of the day it’s down to what they’ve done on the circuit.”

Vettel has been touted as a future Champion since his impressive early races with BMW Sauber and Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2007, while his remarkable wet World weather victory at Monza in 2008 removed any question marks about his potential. Homer is full of praise for the German.

“Sebastian has kept his focus. He’s had some dreadful luck. He had a guaranteed win in Australia, there was the brake disc in Barcelona, and then of course Korea and the engine failure there. But he’s never lost his focus. He’s always believed in himself, believed in the team, believed in the car.

“He’s a very determined, astute young man. He’s very talented, and he’s got a great sense of humour. He’s just got better and better. He’s made a few mistakes, but they all have this year. But when he’s at the front, he’s phenomenal. His ability to read and control a race, and look after the car and tyres and engine, is impressive. He’s led a lot of laps this year, and it’s great and I think fitting that he’s won the World Championship.” Adam Cooper

Drivers buoyed by first Pirelli test

The Formula 1 teams gave an initial thumbs-up after sampling 2011 Pirelli rubber for the first time when they ran two days of testing at Abu Dhabi in the week following the final Grand Prix of the season.

This was the only chance for the teams to work with the Pirellis before their new cars are launched in February. It was a measure of the significance that was attached to the test that most teams chose to give the job to their race drivers, with both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa turning out for Ferrari, and Sebastian Vettel returning from his PR tour in Europe just days after winning the World Championship.

However, McLaren chose to utilise third driver Gary Paffett and GP2 man Oliver Turvey on the basis that the tyres are likely to change before the start of the season, and thus the team felt that there was no need to recall Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to the Middle East.

Pirelli brought its soft and medium compounds to Abu Dhabi, and between them the teams ran for some 11,000km, adding a huge amount of data to that gathered by the Toyota TF109 test car driven by Nick Heidfeld and latterly Pedro de la Rosa in Europe.

Michael Schumacher and the Mercedes team are relying heavily on the tyres working well with their new car after the former World Champion struggled with a lack of front-end grip throughout this season.

Although there was no instant fix in Abu Dhabi, Schumacher remained positive: In terms of consistency, it looked quite good. But we were using the 2010 car today and it will be all about how these tyres suit our 2011 car.”

De la Rosa is due to continue the in-house test programme in Bahrain in the middle of December.

Brit Pack shines in young driver runs

No fewer than 21 hopefuls took part in the F1 rookie driver test at Abu Dhabi after the last race of the season.

Held for the first time last year, the test provides an opportunity for teams to try out drivers who have not yet stated a Grand Prix, and is also a rare chance for established third drivers to actually get some mileage.

While some of those who invested hard cash in a session with one of the lesser teams may never get close to a Formula 1 grid, others are undoubtedly stars of the future.

Perhaps not surprisingly Red Bull third driver Daniel Ricciardo topped both days of the test with the car that had just won the drivers championship.

Encouragingly for anyone searching for the next Button or Hamilton, five British drivers took part Sam Bird showed well over two days with Mercedes, while fellow GP2 man Oliver Turvey was second-fastest for McLaren on day two. Regular third drivers Gary Paffeff and Paul di Resta appeared for McLaren and Force India respectively, while FIA F2 Champion Dean Stoneman had his prize drive with Williams.

New Sauber signing Sergio Perez had his first run with his new team, and Pastor Maldonado drove for both Williams and Hispania.

In Brief

• Hispania’s plans to race a Cosworth-powered update of the stillborn Toyota TF110 in 2011 ground to a halt after Toyota Motorsport announced it has severed all contact with the Spanish-owned team. Hispania had already announced that it will use a Williams gearbox as part of next season’s package.

• Leading Spanish businessman Juan Villalonga has been named as a key partner in Hispania.Villalonga is an ex-boss of former Minardi and Renault sponsor Telefonica, and has promised to source funding.

• Jules Bianchi has been confirmed as a Ferrari test driver for 2011, having previously been a member of the team’s young driver young programme. The Frenchman managed by Nicolas Todt was given two days of running in the Abu Dhabi rookie test.

• Lotus Racing will hark back to the JPS era by running a black and gold livery in 2011, having used traditional green and yellow this year. It remains to be seen whether Tony Fernandes can still use the name, as his bitter dispute with Group Lotus continues. Sources suggest Fernandes went the JPS route precisely because Group Lotus had intended to use it should it join forces with the Renault team.

• Russian supercar company Marussia Motors has invested in Virgin Racing, and its name will be part of the team’s title next year. Formed in 2007, Marussia has made an impact at major motor shows but has yet to deliver a car to a customer.

• The FIA has formalised a new disciplinary system which will take major F1 disputes out of the hands of the World Motor Sport Council. The International Tribunal will comprise 12 judges, while its decisions can still go to the International Court of Appeal, operating as before.

• Red Bull Racing has agreed to use Renault engines until the end of 2012 at which point a new turbo formula is due to come in. Renault has increased its branding on the RBR drivers and cars, and heavily advertised its involvement in the 2010 title success.

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