Sebastian Vettel becomes youngest ever F1 champion
Sebastian Vettel today took over the mantle of the youngest world champion in Formula One history following an astonishing end to one of the most dramatic seasons in the sport's 60 years.
Vettel took the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi for his fifth victory of the year, and with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso a distant seventh as a number of events conspired against him, it allowed the German to make sure of his place in the record books.
At 23 years and 135 days, Vettel beats the mark of Lewis Hamilton - who finished second in this race ahead of team-mate and outgoing world champion Jenson Button - by 166 days.
It guaranteed Vettel the title by four points from Alonso, with Red Bull completing a championship double after winning the constructors' crown a week ago in Brazil.
Vettel was clearly in tears on his slow-down lap as he attempted to speak over the in-car radio, with team principal Christian Horner proclaiming: "Sebastian Vettel you are the world champion!"
Hamilton, the 2008 champion, was the first to congratulate Vettel as they emerged from the cockpit of their cars.
Out on the track, however, there was consternation when Alonso drew up alongside Vitaly Petrov as the Spaniard wagged his finger at the Renault driver after being help up for around 40 laps.
Petrov, however, was perfectly within his rights to fight for his eventual sixth place, his second best result of the year, and one which may yet lead to him retaining his place for next season.
The start was typically dramatic, albeit with all the action going on behind the leading quintet who were making their way onto one of the longest straights in F1 when the action unfolded.
It was sparked by nothing more than a nudge from Nico Rosberg on Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher on the approach into turn six, a sharp right-hander.
The minor impact was enough to spin seven-times champion Schumacher into oncoming traffic, leaving Force India's Vitantonio Liuzzi with nowhere to go.
Liuzzi then drove over the front of Schumacher's left-front wheel, the front wing of his car narrowly missing the German - who was left helpless inside the cockpit.
Another few inches to Liuzzi's left and his car would definitely have rammed into Schumacher's helmet, but luckily the German emerged unscathed.
That appreciably prompted the introduction of the safety car, and crucially, as it unfolded, a flurry of pit stops from a handful of drivers.
The most notable were Rosberg and Petrov, as would eventually come to light later into the race.
Another vital element that occurred within seconds of the five red lights disappearing saw Button pass Alonso at the start, relegating the 29-year-old to fourth.
With Vettel out in front once the safety car disappeared after lap five, that was the lowest position required by Alonso to claim the title.
Once the initial stops unfolded, from his fifth place Webber was the first of the leaders to take on fresh rubber after complaining of his rear tyres falling away.
Ferrari countered by bringing in Felipe Massa, who had been directly behind the Australian at the time - but he failed to slingshot by as had been hoped.
That forced Ferrari to bring in Alonso to counter Webber, leading to the 29-year-old dropping behind a gaggle of cars, but primarily Rosberg and Petrov.
At that stage Alonso would have believed in his car and his talent being supreme enough to force his way past both as the race unfolded, but it was not to be.
At one stage Alonso did attempt a move on Petrov into the left-hand corner out of the long straight, but almost lost his front wing in the process.
It was as close as Alonso came, his position worsening at the start of lap 47 as close friend Robert Kubica in his Renault finally came in for a stop having held up Hamilton for an inordinate length of time.
In leaving it so late, and with Petrov holding up Alonso, the Pole had enough in hand to ensure he emerged in front of his team-mate and the double world champion.
Once Force India's Adrian Sutil also pitted from his fourth at the time a lap later, it meant the entire field had made the necessary one and only stop.
At that stage with seven laps to run, Vettel led Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Kubica, Petrov, and with Alonso seventh, and Webber out of the running in eighth.
Those last seven laps will likely have been the most nerve-wracking of Vettel's life, but he mastered them with confidence to eventually take his place in F1 folklore.
Vettel has only led the championship at its most crucial moment.
"I'm a bit speechless. I don't know what you are supposed to say in this moment," said Vettel, before then speaking for three minutes.
"It has been an incredibly tough season, physically and mentally especially. But we have always believed in myself, my car, the team.
"I tried to do my own thing today, knowing the only thing I could do was my best and to win this race.
"As you say, I've only led the championship today.
"The car was fantastic, a dream, and it was crucial Lewis got hold up behind Kubica.
"But to be honest I didn't know anything over the last 10 laps. In crossing the line my engineer came on and said 'It's looking good, we have to wait for the cars to finish.'
"I was wondering what he meant, and then he came over the radio at me again a few seconds later and screamed that I am the world champion."
Finishing fourth in the standings, 14 points behind Vettel, Hamilton said "It's not been the most spectacular season for us.
"I just want to offer huge congratulations to Sebastian and Red Bull."
As for Button, he remarked: "The season as a whole has been very up and down for a lot of people
"But I've had a great season. I feel very at home at McLaren, and now I can look forward to a good winter.
"Hopefully Lewis and I can mount a better challenge, and I hope to be sat where this guy (Vettel) is next year."
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