They called him ‘Baby Schumi’ when he first came into Formula One but Sebastian Vettel has blown away even Michael Schumacher with his third successive title at the age of 25 and after just 101 races.
The youngest triple champion the sport has ever seen, the Red Bull driver is only the third — after the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and Schumacher himself — to win three championships in a row. The younger German is the only man, however, to take his first three titles in consecutive years.
Vettel’s latest moment of triumph came on Sunday at a Brazilian Grand Prix that saw Schumacher finally depart the stage at the age of 43 and after a record seven titles and 91 wins in a career spanning more than two decades.
Schumacher started out racing the likes of Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost and he leaves with the sport dominated by a man who was four years old when the older German made his 1991 debut.
It took Schumacher 143 races to become a triple champion at the age of 31. Vettel, less baby-faced than he was but still cheerfully cheeky, has always been a man in a hurry from the day he came into Formula One in 2007 and immediately became the youngest driver to score a point.
He became the youngest grand prix pole sitter, race winner and driver on the podium with Toro Rosso in 2008, the youngest champion in 2010 and, unlike Schumacher, has a strong sense of Formula One history.
|Michael Schumacher walks away while media talks to Sebastian Vettel
When Schumacher retired for the first time in 2006, the sages opined that his records were unlikely to be matched in the foreseeable future. They did not foresee the arrival of Vettel, who before Brazil had won 26 percent of the races he had started and been on pole position in 36 percent of them. He had also finished on the podium 46 times in 100 starts.
Whereas Schumacher left Benetton for Ferrari after his 1994 and 1995 championships and spent years helping the Italian team to their first drivers’ title in 21 years, Vettel has so far resisted a move.
There is every chance, with a team that has won the constructors’ title for the past three years and has the brilliance of designer Adrian Newey keeping them a step ahead of the rest, that the German can bite deeper and deeper into Schumacher’s records.
Once dubbed a ‘Crash Kid’ by McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, Vettel showed a new maturity last year when he ran away with his second title. He has been less dominant this season, at least in the first half, but has been rewarded for his consistency in an unpredictable championship.
In 2010, Vettel did not lead the championship until the moment when it really mattered, after the final floodlit race in Abu Dhabi when he clawed back a 15-point deficit on Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
The following year, he wrapped up the title in Japan with four races to spare. He ended that same season with a record 15 pole positions and 11 race wins. The German has found it harder to assert himself this season with seven different winners in the first seven races but Singapore proved the turning point, and he went on to win four races in a row to take the lead from Alonso in South Korea.
“It’s all too easy to say he’s had the fastest car because on numerous occasions this year he hasn’t,” said team principal Christian Horner. “He came back from the summer break almost 40 points behind the championship lead. He focused hard, he worked hard at it and he maximised his chances.”
A carpenter’s son from Heppenheim, Vettel has given all his cars female names, progressing from ‘Kate’ to ‘Kate’s Dirty Sister’, ‘Luscious Liz’, ‘Randy Mandy’ and last year’s ‘Kinky Kylie’. This year’s model was simply ‘Abbey’, a name Vettel insisted was not linked to his love of The Beatles album ‘Abbey Road’.
The single digit raised in celebration after every race win, accompanied by whoops of delight from the cockpit, has become a trademark gesture — and just as irksome for rivals as Schumacher’s podium jump for joy in the early years of the century.
The pair embraced after Sunday’s race and Schumacher had earlier let his compatriot go through to take sixth place in the closing laps.
“When I met him the first time, obviously I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t want to ask something stupid,” Vettel recalled last week. “(It’s) very special the relationship we share and I think he will always be an inspiration for myself.”
AUSTRALIAN GP (MARCH 18)
Button relegated defending world champion Vettel to second in a flying start to the season.
Standings: Button 25 pts, Vettel 18, Hamilton 15
MALAYSIAN GP (MARCH 25)
A nearly hour-long storm interruption threw the race into confusion before Alonso emerged victorious.
Standings: Alonso 35, Hamilton 30, Button 25
CHINESE GP (APRIL 15)
Rosberg claimed his first victory in 111 attempts as he led from pole position to take the race in style.
Standings: Hamilton 45, Button 43, Alonso 37
BAHRAIN GP (APRIL 22)
Vettel led from start to finish to claim his first win of the year at Bahrain’s controversial race.
Standings: Vettel 53, Hamilton 49, Webber 48
SPANISH GP (MAY 13)
Maldonado became the first Venezuelan to win an F1 race holding off Alonso.
Standings: Vettel 61, Alonso 61, Hamilton 53
MONACO GP (MAY 27)
Webber started from pole to finish sixtenths of a second clear of Rosberg with Alonso third for Ferrari.
Standings: Alonso 76, Vettel 73, Webber 73
CANADIAN GP (JUNE 10)
Hamilton made it seven different winners in seven races with a win in Montreal.
Standings: Hamilton 88, Alonso 86, Vettel 85
EUROPEAN GP (JUNE 24)
Local hero Alonso became the first man to win two Formula One races after starting from 11th on the grid.
Standings: Alonso 111, Webber 91, Hamilton 88
BRITISH GP (JULY 8)
Webber dragged himself into contention for the drivers’ world title by winning a dramatic race at Silverstone.
Standings: Alonso 129, Webber 116, Vettel 100
GERMAN GRAND PRIX - JULY 22
Alonso led from start to finish. Vettel was handed a 20-second penalty for an illegal manouvre.
Standings: Alonso 154, Webber 120, Vettel 110
HUNGARIAN GP (JULY 29)
Hamilton delivered a flawless drive from start to finish to revive his title challenge.
Standings: Alonso 164, Webber 124, Vettel 122
BELGIAN GP (SEPT 2)
Button claimed his second win of the year in a race marred by a horrific firstbend crash that took out Hamilton, Alonso, and Grosjean.
Standings: Alonso 164, Vettel 140, Webber 132
ITALIAN GP (SEPT 9)
Hamilton won his third race of the year which moved him up to second in the drivers’ standings.
Standings: Alonso 179, Hamilton 142, Raikkonen 141
SINGAPORE GP (SEPT 23)
Vettel roared back into the title race with his second win of the season.
Standings: Alonso 194, Vettel 165, Raikkonen 149
JAPANESE GP (OCT 7)
Vettel slashed the title race to just four points with a victory at Suzuka. Alonso spun out on the first turn.
Standings: Alonso 194, Vettel 190, Raikkonen 157
KOREAN GP (OCT 14)
Vettel leapfrogged Alonso at the top of the table with victory at Yeongam. Alonso finished third behind Webber.
Standings: Vettel 215, Alonso 209, Raikkonen 167
INDIAN GRAND PRIX - OCT 28
Vettel rattled off his fourth win in four races to go 13 points clear of nearest rival Alonso.
Standings: Vettel 240, Alonso 227, Raikonnen 173
ABU DHABI GP (NOV 4)
Raikkonen claimed his first win in three years but Vettel stole the plaudits for finishing third after starting from the pit lane.
Standings: Vettel 255, Alonso 245, Raikkonen 198
UNITED STATES GP (NOV 18)
Vettel took second, behind Hamilton, with Alonso finishing third, setting up a dramatic title decider in Interlagos.
Standings: Vettel 273, Alonso 260, Raikkonen 206
BRAZILIAN GP (NOV 25)
Vettel overcame a disastrous start to finish sixth to win his third title. Alonso finished second behind Button after a thrilling race at Interlagos.
Standings: Vettel 281, Alonso 278, Raikkonen 207