Sebastian Vettel seals F1 title in Japan
SUZUKA, Japan -- Sebastian Vettel added his name to a select list on Sunday, finishing third at the Japanese Grand Prix to become the youngest of the nine drivers who have won consecutive Formula One titles.
Vettel needed just one point to wrap up the title or for Button to not win the race. The 15 points the German earned for third were more than enough to make him the sport's youngest two-title winner at age 24.
"We've had a long year, a fantastic year," Vettel said. "Today's race was difficult. We weren't as fast as we wanted to be on the soft tires and it was difficult as we lost two positions but it was a strong result today to win the championships and I want to thank the team."
Vettel joins some of the greats of the sport in having won consecutive championships: Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Alonso.
The German's voice cracked as he spoke over the radio to team boss Christian Horner on his way back to the pits after the race, but when he got there he was all smiles, running to the outside of the pit wall where he was mobbed by his team in jubilant celebrations.
Vettel briefly challenged Alonso for second with 10 laps to go, but didn't want to take any risks knowing he had the championship wrapped up with a third-place finish. He finished 2.006 seconds behind Button.
At the start of the race Vettel and Button nearly collided on the run to the first corner. Vettel got a slightly tardy start and cut hard to his right to block Button, who was forced to slow and put wheels on the grass to avoid contact.
Button could be heard over his team radio saying "He's (Vettel) got to get a penalty for that," but stewards reviewed the video and elected not to punish the Red Bull driver.
After the race, as the top three drivers prepared to walk out on the podium, Button asked Vettel, "didn't you see me at the start?" Vettel said he was within his rights to defend his position because he was ahead, not beside Button.
Vettel said he had no intention of putting Button in danger.
"Obviously, as I said, I didn't want to put him in danger," Vettel said. "But I think we have to race each other hard."
Vettel held the lead until the second round of pit stops after lap 20 when Button got out ahead, and led Vettel, Alonso and Webber for rest of the race.
"This circuit is very special," Button said. "We love this place and it was great to get a win here. I want to thank the team. The improvements that they did to the car were impeccable."
Vettel, who won last year's championship in the last race of the year, compared that victory with wrapping up the title with four races remaining.
"The funny thing this year is that next week there is the next race so it's a bit difficult to understand," Vettel said. "Last year after the checkered flag it was all over, there was a long period of time when you weren't in the car again so it's a bit different this year."
Vettel's home town of Heppenheim became "Vettelheim" for the day as thousands of the driver's fans gathered in front of giant screens to watch the race.
Celebrations were marked by champagne showers, a procession of honking cars, fireworks and 100 liters of free beer, as flag-waving revelers from around Germany joined the town's 25,000 inhabitants.
Despite focusing on the eurozone's debt crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her congratulations from Berlin.
"I'm happy and I congratulate Sebastian Vettel on his win," Merkel said.
The ongoing feud between McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa resurfaced in Sunday's race. The drivers made contact at the chicane when Hamilton cut in front of Massa. Minor parts were sent flying as the front tires of both cars made contact.
The two had a collision at the Singapore Grand Prix two weeks earlier when Ferrari's Massa lashed out at Hamilton, saying the McLaren driver endangered other drivers with reckless driving. Race officials investigated the incident but no further action was taken.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press