Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull clinched a third straight Formula One drivers’ title with a sixth-place finish at yesterday’s rain-swept Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old German, who took the crown by a three-point margin, is the youngest-ever three-time winner. His nearest rival, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, came second behind McLaren’s Jenson Button in the 71-lap final race of the season at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was third.
Vettel, fourth on the grid, had a disastrous start as rain left the track surface treacherous with drivers struggling to maintain control. He was left facing the wrong way after a collision with Bruno Senna’s Williams in an incident that damaged his car and dropped him to 22nd.
He quickly fought his way up the field as rain continued to make conditions difficult and his sixth place meant Alonso would have had to win the race to take the title. The race finished under the safety car after Paul Di Resta’s Force India crashed into a wall.
“I was so very happy to climb back after being hit like that at the start. Not a very comfortable feeling,” Vettel told reporters. “This is really special. Right to the end I didn’t know if I’d done enough. Trundling along behind the safety car and then dragging over the line was just torture.”
Vettel had a 13-point lead on Alonso going into yesterday’s race, the last event of 20, and needed a fourth-place finish to guarantee winning the drivers’ title whatever the Spaniard did yesterday. Alonso had to get a podium position to have any chance.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, in pole position, led from the start with front-row teammate Button second. Meanwhile Alonso surged up to third place. Vettel went on a charge that took him back up to sixth before he and Alonso both switched on to intermediate tires.
Meanwhile, Button overtook Hamilton to head the field, only for Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg to surge past both into the race lead soon after. Hulkenberg and Button’s lead was narrowed as the field closed up when the safety car came out as debris was removed from the track.
Hulkenberg and Hamilton then dueled for the lead. The two tangled as Hulkenberg tried to overtake and slid into the Briton, leaving Button ahead, Hamilton out of his last race for McLaren and Hulkenberg given a drive-through penalty.
Massa allowed teammate Alonso through to take second behind Button. Vettel, in seventh, was on course for the title and he moved up to sixth as he eased past Mercedes’s Michael Schumacher. Button held on for his third win this season and his 15th career win.
Vettel finished on 281 points, followed by Alonso (278), Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen (207), Hamilton (190), Button (188) and Red Bull’s Mark Webber (179).
Vettel is the third man to win three titles in a row after Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio and surpasses Ayrton Senna’s mark as the youngest three-time champion. The Brazilian, aged 31 when he achieved the feat in 1991, was killed in a race accident in 1994.
“We’re here in Sao Paulo, the place where Senna was born, came from and was buried,” said Vettel. “It’s difficult to find the right words. It’s unbelievable, I’m still full of adrenaline. It was an incredible race.”
Vettel won four consecutive races in the last seven this year and wrested the standings lead from Alonso by winning the Oct. 14 Korean Grand Prix. The 31-year-old Spaniard was also vying to become a three-time champion, having won with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
“First of all I’m very proud of the team. We lost the championship before today, not in Brazil, this is a sport after all,” Alonso said. “When you do something with your heart and do it 100 percent you have to be proud of yourself and your team and we’ll try again next year.”
Red Bull last week clinched its third constructors’ championship in a row with Vettel’s second place in the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin. The Milton Keynes, England-based team is bankrolled by Austrian energy drink maker Red Bull GmbH.
Red Bull finished on 460 points, with Ferrari second on 400 and McLaren third on 378.
Webber came fourth yesterday, Hulkenberg fifth and Schumacher seventh in the last race of his career. The seven- time world champion came back from retirement in 2010 to join Mercedes. While he won 91 races in his career, he failed to win any since coming back. It was also Hamilton’s last race for McLaren, which he’s leaving to join Mercedes.
Vettel, who’d won only one of the first 13 races, received a tribute from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“As he has so often this season, he was able to show legendary nerves and driving ability in Sao Paulo,” she said in a statement. “I was just as excited as millions of fans to see how he fought back in this world championship after a difficult start to the season. With this third title, he’s secured his place in the history of the sport.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Peter-Joseph Hegarty in London at at email@example.com; Alex Duff in Madrid at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at at email@example.com