As Sebastian Vettel became only Formula One's ninth back-to-back world champion, joining an elite that comprises Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Jack Brabham, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso, rivals have praised the way he managed his 2011 campaign.
"I think he has been exceptional this year," said Lewis Hamilton, who once seemed set for similar success after his spectacular debut with McLaren in 2007 and the world title in 2008. "He has driven really, really well. He has finished first and second in all the races, apart from one, so consistent, well controlled. His persona, attitude, I think has been very professional. He has made very few mistakes – and even the two small ones have not been very costly. So I take my hat off to him – I think he has done fantastically well."
Vettel, who led last year's world championship for the very first time when he won the final race and clinched his first title, has won nine of this season's 15 races and been on the podium in all but one. And his only real error came in Canada in extremely difficult conditions when a big slide let Jenson Button snatch victory, while in China he was beaten fair and square by Hamilton, at Silverstone by Alonso and in Hungary by Button again.
Button, himself a champion in 2009 after a battle with Vettel, said the German has driven much better this year than last, when he was still prone to making youthful errors born of an impetuous streak.
"I said last year before he won the championship that I didn't think he would win, because he made too many mistakes," Button said. "That is my opinion, and obviously he won't agree, but this year he has driven really well. More than his speed, he has made a lot fewer mistakes, he looks very confident in the car. He has got a great car and has done the perfect job with it."
Further praise came from ITV commentator Martin Brundle, who reflected: "I believe the time may have come when we have to start to reappraise Vettel, and perhaps consider his talent in the same light as that of Prost and Senna."
Sebastien Buemi and Daniel Ricciardo, stable-mates in the Red Bull empire even though they drive for Toro Rosso and HRT respectively, have found the 24 year-old German a role model. "I've known Sebastian for quite a long time now," the Swiss driver said. "He's been winning everything that he has raced in so I think he's doing a really good job, especially last year when he clinched the title in the last race. This year he's had the perfect season. It's been wonderful, winning nearly all the races. He's just getting the maximum out of the car and the team. He's done the best job of everyone."
"Sebastian sets a good target for us younger drivers, definitely," the Australian agreed. "I think if we can repeat or maybe even one day try and do better, it's the ultimate. He's definitely set the benchmark, particular for us Red Bull Juniors. We'll try to follow."
Sam Michael, the Williams technical director who will shortly leave for the role of sporting director with Hamilton and Button at McLaren, made a key point that focused on Vettel's value to a team: "It's not the races when Red Bull are dominant, it's the ones when they are not, that show that he's really something special. He's won races they shouldn't have won. Although the car's clearly very good, they haven't been dominant at every single circuit and some of the races that I've seen him win this year have been pretty impressive."
"Seb is certainly a very special guy, very talented," Mercedes head of motorsport, Norbert Haug said. "I've known him since his early days in Formula BMW ADAC, the supporting races of DTM. Then he was a Formula Three driver with Paul di Resta. He learned a lot, he's very focused, a very intelligent guy, a very demanding guy and an absolutely nice chap."
Race by race: How Vettel defended title
Title defence gets off to perfect start in Melbourne, Vettel winning from pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Position in Champion-ship 1st, 25pts
Malaysian GP 1st
Another dominant display from the German in Sepang. Opens an early lead and finishes ahead of Jenson Button. Championship1st, 50pts
Chinese GP 2nd
Overtaken from pole on first lap of dramatic race, but recovers to lead before being overtaken by Hamilton late on. Championship1st, 68pts
Turkish GP 1st
Normal service resumes. Vettel leads all the way and crosses the line eight seconds ahead of Mark Webber. Championship1st, 93pts
Spanish GP 1st
Starts second and loses out to Fernando Alonso by first corner. Regains lead and holds off determined Hamilton challenge. Championship1st,118pts
Monaco GP 1st
Slow pit allows Alonso and Button to lead before Vettel fights back. Takes advantage of safety car to change tyres. Championship1st,143pts
Canadian GP 2nd
Overtaken on last lap by Button in thrilling rain-affected Montreal race. Numerous leads wiped out by safety car interruptions. Championship1st,161pts
European GP 1st
Records sixth victory of the season with a dominant showing in Valencia, controlling the race from pole to extend title lead to 77 points. Championship 1st, 186pts
British GP 2nd
Beats Webber to the first corner before an error in the pits puts Vettel back to third. Finishes second, 16 seconds behind Alonso.Championship 1st, 204pts
German GP 4th
Finishes off podium for first time in 12 races. Starts in third and falls to ninth before holding off Felipe Massa for fourth. Hamilton wins.Championship 1st, 216pts
Hungarian GP 2nd
Winless run continues as Vettel gives up lead to Hamilton on fifth lap. The Briton's penalty later allows Button and Vettel into top two. Championship 1st, 234pts
Belgian GP 1st
Returns to winning ways, leading Webber from pole in Red Bull one-two. Australian now trails Vettel in standings by 92 points. Championship 1st, 259pts
Italian GP 1st
German gets pushed down to second after superb Alonso move off the line, before regaining lead on fifth lap and coasting home. Championship 1st, 284pts
Singapore GP 1st
Registers ninth victory of the season to move to within a point of title. Leads from lights-to-flag, holding off spirited challenge from Button. Championship 1st, 309pts
Japanese GP 3rd
Does the necessary to become the youngest double-champ. Finishes behind Button and Alonso despite controversial block on Briton. Championship 1st, 324pts