ABU DHABI // The Formula One fraternity was unanimous in its praise of Sebastian Vettel last night after the 23-year-old German performed phenomenally in a gripping, season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become the youngest world champion in the sport's 61-year history.
Vettel finished the race 10 seconds ahead of McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and 43 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who had been the championship-leader. The elated Red Bull-Renault driver was left speechless, but his peers were quick to congratulate him.
"He deserves it," Hamilton said. "Red Bull have had an amazing season. Huge congratulations to them and to Sebastian who has done a fantastic job this year."
With Vettel's Red Bull teammate Mark Webber second in the championship going into the race, it was the Australian who was expected to challenge Alonso for the title. However, when Webber had to pit on the 11th lap he returned to the track and found himself in traffic. He failed to recover and finished eighth.
"I tried my absolute hardest and we did everything we could," Webber said. "But in the end it wasn't enough. You've got to take your hat off to Sebastian, he's done a great job all year and to lead the championship at the last race, he's got his timing right and I fully congratulate him."
Vettel's compatriot Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, added: "I'm quite happy for him because we are friends and it has been a tough year for him. He's had up and downs and he has had to go through, probably, more on the mechanical side than on the driving side - so he really deserves this championship.
"He is a great driver and he is a fantastic guy, so I am more than happy for him."
Alonso, who was expected to win his third drivers' title having led the championship since the Korean Grand Prix on October 24, was - eventually - gracious in defeat. He initially shook his fists in anger at Vitaly Petrov, the Renault driver who refused to let him to pass him and chase the fourth-place finish he required.
"I want to congratulate Red Bull and its drivers," Alonso said. "Over the course of the season, they have had a little something extra than us and they deserve to be where they are today."
Stefano Domenicali, Alonso's team principal at Ferrari, added: "[Vettel] had the quickest car and in the end, he was the best, which the points table proved."