As the light started to dwindle at the Buddh International Circuit in India, Sebastian Vettel performed donuts on the start finish line before jumping out and bowing down to his RB9, a car that has served him well over the past season.
On the 27th of October, Vettel drove himself into a league of few, a place where only a handful of aliens have claimed four or more world driver championships. The 26-year-old German is also the youngest driver to join the four championships club.
So how did Vettel claim his championship with three races to go? With the cars and teams now very close, it’s some achievement to take it so early and not have it come down to the final race.
Despite its concrete reliability for Vettel, the RB9 has been nothing but trouble and frustration for Vettel’s teammate, Mark Webber – this is where the conspiracy theorists whisper about Red Bull’s total commitment to only zi German, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s all it is – a conspiracy. Vettel hasn’t taken his forth title and dominated every aspect of the sport because Webber has had a few problems. I must admit, however, bad luck follows Webber like a black cloud.
It wasn’t all so clear-cut from the beginning of the season, however, as a certain Spaniard looked fast and more determined than ever to lift the crown for Ferrari.
The season started in Australia, where rain interrupted qualifying and left the track damp for the race. Kimi Raikkonen eventually won for Lotus, with Vettel second and Alonso third. Here we saw Red Bull and Ferrari were still at the top of their game, with an encouraging performance from Lotus.
Malaysia sparked the first round of controversy for Vettel. Around the halfway mark his engineer ‘Rocky’ ordered him to slow to look after his tyres and that he’s getting to close to teammate Webber. Vettel replied: “Mark is too slow, get him out of the way.” The German ignored team orders and continued to hunt the Aussie down.
After the third round of stops, Vettel attempted a few lunges at his teammate, despite the previous orders. On lap 46, the whole Red Bull team held their breath as the two nearly collided down the start-finish straight. After more close calls, team boss Christian Horner took over the radio: “This is silly, Seb, come on.” Whilst this insane duel went on, the camera showed Red Bull’s design chief drop his head into his hands.
Vettel won the race but lost all respect (if there was any in the first place) of his teammate.
Next up was China, a race won by Ferrari and Alonso. It was also a race where the new Pirelli tyre compounds were coming into question regarding their fast degradation. Mark Webber lost a wheel, reminding us all he was the unluckiest guy in F1. Although not dominating in anyway, Vettel managed to finish in a solid forth.
Like China, Bahrain was all about the Pirelli tyres. Mercedes began to show the start of their blisteringly fast qualifying pace with Rosberg grabbing pole. They also showed they couldn’t look after their tyres well in race trim, with Vettel winning and both of the Lotuses making the podium.
In Spain the Mercedes stormed to a 1 – 2 in qualifying, Rosberg on pole and Hamilton in second. Vettel managed a respectable forth, and although the favourite and homeboy looked fast all weekend, Alonso had to settle for fifth.
It wasn’t to be for Vettel and he finished were he started in forth. Alonso drove a stormer and won with teammate Massa in third.
The teams had to deal with more rain in Monaco but this wasn’t a problem for Mercedes as they were yet again very fast in qualifying trim. Rosberg took pole and maintained his position on track to take the race win. Vettel was up there and took second place ahead of his teammate.
All eyes were on Pirelli as the F1 world headed to the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Canada as it was announced the teams could test the new compounds during Canada’s Friday practice sessions only. This was at a time Pirelli and the Mercedes team were in question over the ‘secret testing’ controversy.
Dealing with wet and dry conditions wasn’t ideal for testing, but Vettel managed to take pole and the race with Alonso second and Hamilton third.
More drama came at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix, again thanks to Pirelli. During this much-loved track renowned for its speed, tyres were exploding left, right and centre – Pirelli were now under enormous pressure to produce a more stable tyre.
Vettel suffered a gearbox failure and was left stranded on track. Rosberg won, with Alonso managing to grab some points back in third.
Homeboy Vettel more than made up for his previous misfortune by taking his first home German Grand Prix. Lotus were also very strong but only had enough for second and third. Alonso was thereabouts in forth, grabbing some useful points.
The Hungarian Grand Prix wasn’t the greatest of races for Vettel or Alonso as they finished in third and fifth respectively. At this point in the championship Raikkonen and Hamilton were very much in the mix and Kimi’s second place behind race winner Hamilton added a little excitement to the standings.
Belgium opened its arms for a well-rested F1 entourage after the summer break. The weather played a significant role in qualifying that saw Hamilton take pole with the Red Bulls behind him.
Vettel took a dominant win, with Alonso (having started from ninth) taking second in the race and sliding into second in the standings thanks to Kimi having to retire. Lewis Hamilton also jumped the Finn by taking the final step on the podium and third in the standings.
Even at Ferrari’s hunting ground Monza, no one could stop the runaway train that was Vettel. With Raikkonen and Hamilton both failing to make Q3, Vettel won the race with Alonso in second and Webber in third.
The championship wasn’t over, but it was here it started to look like the German was going to runaway with it.
Under the illuminated streets of Singapore, Vettel put in a quite literal brilliant performance. Known for his ‘never say die’ attitude, Alonso did all he could to take second, with Raikkonen taking third.
Unless the German suffered a few DNFs over the course of the season, it really did look like Vettel’s championship.
No DNF for Vettel in Korea as he took pole and the race. Raikkonen drove a good race for second, whilst nearest threat Alonso could only grab sixth.
Vettel now had a 77-point lead over Alonso in the standings, with Kimi a further 28 points back.
The next race took place in Japan and could’ve seen Vettel lift the championship had Alonso finish ninth or below. It did look good for the German as he qualified second with Alonso trailing in eighth. As things went, Vettel managed the needed win, but Alonso drove well and snatched forth.
Going to India, Vettel had a huge 90-point advantage over Alonso.
Vettel only had to finish fifth or higher in India to claim his forth title. He didn’t just dominate here – he annihilated everyone in both qualifying and during the race.
With three races still to go in 2013, Sebastian Vettel is the youngest driver to take four titles.
Is he the greatest driver of all time? That’s a subjective one, but with age on his side, he very well could be.