The win eight years ago proved to be the start of remarkable success for the German driver and the Red Bull team.
Vettel hopes to draw on memories of 2009 to inspire 2017 victory at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
As Yas Marina Circuit prepared for the first staging of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix eight years ago, a 22-year-old Sebastian Vettel arrived in the UAE having just been beaten to the Formula One drivers’ championship by Jenson Button.
The German, driving for Red Bull Racing at the time, put that setback behind him to win in Abu Dhabi and head into the winter break on a high.
He would go on to not only claim his first title the following year in 2010, winning it in Abu Dhabi, but win four championships in a row.
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Vettel moved to Ferrari in 2015 but it wasn't until this season that he had his first real tilt at winning a fifth drivers’ title.
Ultimately, a combination of unreliability and driver error meant he missed out to Lewis Hamilton, with the Briton wrapping up his own fourth world crown last month in Mexico.
Vettel, 30, will hope history is set to repeat itself and, like he did in 2009, he can rebound from the disappointment of his failed world title bid by emerging victorious in the UAE capital.
Ahead of today's race, Vettel's chances appear remote after qualifying third behind the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton.
Only once, in 2012 when Kimi Raikkonen won for Lotus, as anyone won in Abu Dhabi who did not start on the front row.
But Vettel said he would be pushing hard in the race and believes a strong performance in the final race of the season, even if it's not for a championship, can have a lasting impac heading into the off-season.
“I think the last race is important,” he said in the post-qualifying news conference. “Obviously if you’re not in the fight for the championship, it still is important to set things up for the winter, just give a boost to the whole factory.”
Acknowledging the similarities between now and 2009, Vettel said the win eight years ago had been important to help set up the success that he and Red Bull subsequently enjoyed.
“I think, yes, it did give us huge momentum for the year after, for the year," the German said. "I think the whole year gave us confidence.”
Vettel was unable to match the Mercedes pair over one lap in qualifying on Saturday, with his best effort of 1 minute, 36.777 half a second off the pole time of Bottas.
Throughout the season the Mercedes cars have largely had the edge in qualifying, with 15 pole positions from 20 races, but Ferrari have been much stronger in race conditions.
Vettel expects a similar scenario on Sunday, and his challenge is to find a way past both of the German cars during the 55 laps of action.
“On race pace I think we can be a bit closer, but they have been very, very strong,” he said.
“Valtteri obviously had a mega lap, so congrats to him. We’ll see. It should be a fun race. Overtaking is not always straightforward but not impossible here, so let’s see.”
Vettel only needs to be eighth to secure second place in the championship at the expense of Bottas, but he promised Yas Marina fans that he would be going hard for a fourth win at the circuit.
“We’re here to race,” he said. “Obviously it’s important to seal second place. It’s a long race but we are here to race and the ambition obviously is to win, to get to the podium.”