x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Sebastian Vettel joins the pantheon of all-time greats

Sebastian Vettel joins Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio in list of four-time winners of the F1 world championship after German dominates at Indian Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel became the first driver to win his first four drivers' titles consecutively. Prakash Singh / AFP
Sebastian Vettel became the first driver to win his first four drivers' titles consecutively. Prakash Singh / AFP

NOIDA, India // Germany’s Sebastian Vettel roared into the record book as Formula One’s youngest four-time world champion after winning the Indian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Red Bull Racing team also took the constructors’ world championship for the fourth successive year.

“You’ve done it in style,” Christian Horner, the Red Bull principal, shouted over the team radio as Vettel took the chequered flag from Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes-GP and Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, who came through from 17th on the grid to pick up a podium finish. “Brilliant drive. You join the greats, mate. You’re up there.”

The victory from pole position was Vettel’s sixth in a row and completed a treble in India where no other driver has won since the race, which may be making its final appearance on the calendar, made its debut in 2011.

Vettel, 26, becomes the fourth quadruple champion and only the third driver to land four titles in a row after Germany’s seven-time winner Michael Schumacher and the Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio.

Vettel is also the only one to have won his first four consecutively.

The German celebrated by adding some tyre smoke to the haze of pollution hanging over the Buddh International circuit, slowing the car on the pit straight and then spinning it around with some donuts for the fans.

Vettel got out, standing up on the car before crouching to kiss the front in a gesture of worship.

Clambering up the wire fence, he threw his gloves into the grandstand before scaling the pit wall to embrace Horner and designer Adrian Newey. “How do I feel? I’m overwhelmed. One of the best days of my life so far,” he said.

It marked his 10th win of the year, and Vettel was keen to play down accusations that it had been a simple task for him to become champion.

“It has not been an easy season. From the outside, people will think it was easy, but it wasn’t,” he said. “It has been hard for me, in particular, to be booed when I have not done anything wrong.”

The boos from spectators that marked some of his earlier wins were absent on Sunday, with the German’s title a foregone conclusion and the crowd happy to witness history in the making.

Vettel led Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the only man who could put his celebrations on hold, by 90 points before the start with three races remaining – worth a maximum 75 – after India. He now has 322 to Alonso’s 207.

Red Bull have 470 points in the constructors’, with Mercedes leapfrogging Ferrari into second place with 313.

Alonso needed to finish in the top two, but his hopes evaporated at the start when he tagged the rear of Mark Webber’s Red Bull and then made contact with Jenson Button’s McLaren-Mercedes.

The Spaniard, who had to pit for a new front wing before rejoining the race in 20th place with his strategy in tatters, finished out of the points in 11th.

Webber, who led much of the early part of the race after starting on the longer-lasting medium tyre in a different strategy to Vettel, retired on Lap 40 with an alternator problem.

“I still have a smile on my face. There’s nothing more I could do today,” said the Australian, whose team had some nervous moments after his retirement in case the same happened to Vettel in the closing laps.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa finished fourth after leading for six laps when Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 2 to switch from soft tyres to mediums, with Mexico’s Sergio Perez fifth in his best result of the year.

Tyre choices were crucial, with Pirelli advising that the softs were good for 15 laps, at most, and the mediums 35, although Grosjean did 46 laps on the latter.

Lewis Hamilton was sixth for Mercedes with Kimi Raikkonen, who wrestled with overheating brakes for much of the race and was overtaken by Grosjean, seventh for Lotus.

The Force Indias of Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil were eighth and ninth. Australian Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel’s teammate in 2014, handed Toro Rosso the final point as he held off Alonso.