All of the laps, the hours, and the dramatic twists and turns of a Formula One season are in the end meant for one thing -- a championship, and Sebastian Vettel can now claim to be a double champion in the highest form of motorsport. A foregone conclusion for several months now, it caps one of the most dominant seasons in F1 history, and is another example of a top driver making the most of a top machine. Neither can accomplish the end result without the other, but it takes nothing away from an incredible accomplishment.
The nation of Germany now has laid claim to half of the drivers' championships in the past 18 years, after having none in Formula One's first 44 seasons. The runs by Michael Schumacher and Vettel mean that the country is now second on F1's list of most championships by a nation, behind only Great Britain. Since 1994, no other nation has represented more than three drivers' championships.
The youngest two-time F1 champion was understandably overjoyed following his third-place finish in Suzuka, telling reporters, "I am very proud. But it is really difficult to put into words what I feel right now, because it's not just one key race, or some key races. It's the whole season so far: all the preliminary preparations, the tests, the time in the factory. And then getting rewarded for all that by achieving the goal that you've set yourself -- that is amazing. And that it happens four races before the end of the season, that is even more special -- the early fulfillment of your dreams. Can it get any better?"
Only Michael Schumacher in 2002 and Nigel Mansell in 1992 clinched the championship with more than four races remaining, and although interest in the final four events may wane, the on-track product may only intensify, as McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh explained to The Times of India, "I actually think you'll really see the gloves come off and we'll get to see some truly incredible racing by the greatest drivers in the world."
Not to be outdone was Jenson Button, who earned his third win of the season thanks to excellent tire conservation and race pace. He posted the quickest lap of the day for the second straight race, and his three victories since Canada are second to only Vettel's four. Dating back to his days with Brawn GP, each of his last six victories have come from a non-pole position, and since the beginning of 2009, no driver has more than his seven such wins. In Japan, he had an excellent jump off the grid, but a block by Vettel heading into the first turn negated any advantage. Instead, Button gathered himself and played to his strengths, conserving his tires while also reeling off consistently quick laps.
Formula One remains in Asia this week as Korea is immediately next on the calendar. Pirelli will be bringing soft and supersoft tire compounds, meaning fans may witness a considerable amount of stops in the race. Having hosted only one race thus far, Korea is still a relative unknown. The start was marred by rain last year, and both Mark Webber (accident) and Vettel (engine) failed to finish. The circuit is home to some very slow corners, including Turns 1, 3, 4 and 6. The second half of the track opens up a bit and features some tricky, high-speed bends. At 5.6 kilometers, it's on par with most other F1 circuits, but overall Korea is a tough place to learn in the matter of a race weekend.
Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher is coming off his first laps led with Mercedes and had a strong finish here last year, benefitting from some top drivers' misfortunes. He's just three points behind teammate Nico Rosberg and has accrued 28 of his 60 points in just the past four races. After finishing 70 points behind Rosberg last year, Schumacher is no doubt motivated to best him in 2011.