Vettel is F1's youngest triple champion
RED Bull's Sebastian Vettel became Formula One's youngest triple world champion at the age of 25 after a wet and chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix rollercoaster won by McLaren's Jenson Button behind the safety car yesterday.
The German, needing only a fourth place to join the greats as the first driver to win his first three titles consecutively, finished sixth after fighting back with a damaged car from last on the opening lap.
It proved enough after his sole rival Fernando Alonso, needing victory, crossed the line in his Ferrari in second place with Brazilian Felipe Massa third. "You're a triple world champion. You're the man. You are a triple world champion," shouted team principal Christian Horner over the team radio as Vettel crossed the finish line after what he said later was the toughest race of his career.
The team could not hear his reply, or his choked sobs of joy, because the radio was faulty and had been only incoming for most of an afternoon that threw one obstacle after another at the champion.
Vettel ended the season with 281 points to 278 for Alonso, who would have been the youngest triple champion at 31 had results fallen his way. Kimi Raikkonen was third overall for Lotus on 207 in his comeback year.
Red Bull had already won the constructors' title for the third year in a row.
"It's very difficult to find the right words, especially after the race today," said Vettel. "I think everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
"To limp home, underneath the safety car (conditions), I didn't know if it was enough ... we had to really fight until the end."
On a day when the Brazilian weather produced a thriller to stand the test of time against some of the sport's great races, it seemed the gods were on Alonso's side almost as soon as the starting lights went out.
Vettel was squeezed from fourth place, fell back into the pack and was caught in a collision with Brazilian Bruno Senna's Williams that spun him around helplessly facing his speeding rivals.
"There is visible damage, it is not the front wing, we cannot fix it," he was told as he rejoined the chase with the whole race ahead of him.
Four laps later Vettel was assured the data looked good but a concerned-looking Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey had a photograph of the damage taken at the driver's pitstop to get a closer look from the pit wall.
Alonso, Vettel's only title rival who had 13 points to make up, looked like he could steal it as the championship pendulum swung both ways over the 71 laps at Interlagos.
"We lost the championship before today, not in Brazil," said Alonso, who agreed with others that it was one of the hardest races he had ever driven.