x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sebastian Vettel weaves his way through to the F1 championship

Securing the drivers' title in Brazil was anything but straightforward for the German, just like it was all season, writes Graham Caygill.

Facing the wrong way at the beginning of the Brazilian Grand Prix was definitely not what Sebastian Vettel wanted after the German was asked by his Red Bull team to just keep his car 'on the black stuff'. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Facing the wrong way at the beginning of the Brazilian Grand Prix was definitely not what Sebastian Vettel wanted after the German was asked by his Red Bull team to just keep his car 'on the black stuff'. Clive Mason / Getty Images

"Keep your car on the black stuff, that is all we need."

Simple advice you would think during today's Brazilian Grand Prix to Sebastian Vettel from his Red Bull Racing race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin over the pit radio.

But unfortunately simple was not a watchword for Vettel and Red Bull in a drama-filled afternoon in Sao Paulo before they could celebrate a third successive drivers' championship.

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, had spoken beforehand of a straightforward, no risk race, but those thoughts lasted exactly 30 seconds.

Facing the wrong way on the exit from Turn 4 with damage to the left rear of the car after being tapped by Bruno Senna's Williams was definitely not part of the plan.

But the good news is that the car, built in Milton Keynes in England, is made of stern stuff, and despite a wounded exhaust, Vettel was able to quickly move back up the field after being left in last place.

This is where the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix experience probably came in useful for the German.

Having charged through the field from the back of the grid to take third at Yas Marina Circuit earlier this month, the 25 year old was well versed at overtaking slower cars.

While Vettel was doing this and moving back into the top 10 probably the only thing that kept Red Bull's nerves in check was the fact that his title rival Fernando Alonso was not very fast in the Ferrari.

The Spaniard had wanted rain before the race to improve his pace after being slow in qualifying, but even when Interlagos got soggy, he was not quick enough and was no match for the McLaren-Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg's Force India as they initially pulled away.

With Alonso's speed not great, the key for Vettel, once he had got back into the top 10, was simply to finish – hence Rocquelin begging him to take no risks.

But there was still the inconsistent weather, a safety car, debris on the track, concern over the damage to his machine, a misfiring pit radio and an extremely slow pit stop for intermediate tyres to tackle before the celebrations could begin.

Alonso, not through sheer speed, but thanks to Lewis Hamilton and Hulkenberg colliding and teammate Felipe Massa moving out of the way for him, made it up to second near the end of the race, putting more pressure on Red Bull.

If Alonso could have got past Jenson Button's McLaren to win it would have made him a three-time champion rather than Vettel.

But it summed up his season that he was not quick enough to triumph.

So often this year he has dragged his uncompetitive Ferrari into places it had no right to be, given its performance, but he could not find the speed needed to get the extra seven points for first place that would have done the job.

Vettel, despite everything that had been thrown at him, got the points he needed from finishing sixth, and it is fitting that arguably the toughest of his three title successes was won in the most trying of circumstances.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE