x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Vettel proves to be a worthy champion

German has earned his right to the drivers' crown as victory for Alonso would have tainted the season.

Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull-Renault, is mobbed after his victory in the capital yesterday.
Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull-Renault, is mobbed after his victory in the capital yesterday.

Of the quartet of quality Formula One drivers that were, until the final minutes of the final race, embroiled in a tussle for the title, it was the man who most deserved to be crowned world champion who ended the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in tears of joy.

Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton were all capable of lifting the Drivers' Championship last night, but as Vettel sped over the finish line, there was no doubting the 23-year-old German was the season's worthiest winner.

Arriving in the Emirates earlier this week, Hamilton, trailing the standings-leader Alonso by 24 points, in his own words, "needed a miracle" to secure his second championship.

The McLaren-Mercedes driver had performed admirably in a season that saw him competing in a car vastly inferior to the Red Bull-Renaults.

But two crashes in two consecutive grands prix - Monza and Singapore - saw his challenge fade and by the time yesterday's race started, his chances were miniscule.

Alonso won the season-opening race in Bahrain, but had to wait until Hockenheim on July 25 before topping the podium once again.

Along with 25 points came controversy as Felipe Massa, Alonso's teammate and leading a one-two Ferrari finish, was ordered to move aside to allow the Spaniard to win and reap the seven additional points.

Team orders are illegal under F1 rules and the Italian manufacturers were fined $100,000 (Dh367,000).

An Alonso win would undoubtedly have been tainted.

Which leaves only Webber. The Australian has finished on the podium 10 times this season - and on its top step on four occasions - but was found wanting at key moments.

At the inaugural Korean Grand Prix in October, the 34-year-old led the championship by 14 points, but spun out and relinquished his lead to Alonso never to regain it.

Many F1 fans were keen to see Webber win in Abu Dhabi, with him having earned a reputation for being 'the nice guy of Formula One'.

But as Vettel - himself a popular figure in the paddocks - said last night: "Sometimes you have to not [care] and do your own thing".

Vettel achieved 10 pole positions from 19 races and finished on the podium 10 times.

Had he not endured mechanical problems in Bahrain, Australia and Korea, he could have added three more victories to the five he did manage.

His speed, talent and tenacity has taken him to the top and he finished the season stronger than ever - a fact he puts down to renewed belief.

"I had the clear target, going into this season, to win the championship and I was very focused, working very hard, harder than before," he said.

"Maybe mid-season, I don't think I lost the focus, but maybe I was a bit tense...

"At some point though, I accepted the fact that sometimes things don't go your way but in the long term, I think there's something called justice and [yesterday], at least in my calculation, it turned out to be right."

While Alonso appeared to blame Vitaly Petrov for his own inability to pass him and make up the positions that would have seen him finish fourth in the race and first in the championship, Vettel passed the plaudits on to his 550-strong Red Bull team as well as complimenting the competition.

"We have an extremely strong team working in harmony back in Milton Keynes," Vettel said.

"The guys are pushing like hell and I think they enjoy this moment as much as last week.

"I think we have seen incredible fights and a tight season.

"I don't know how many times we had a different leader in this championship.

"Some people got written off very early and they came back - meaning Fernando with Ferrari - and they fought back very hard. McLaren came back; Lewis was leading the championship," he said.

"And obviously all of us can write a book about races where we should have finished in higher positions."

Last night, Vettel finished in the highest position possible.

And with it, under the floodlights of the fabulous Yas Marina, he was awarded the crown he deserves.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae