Triumph tinged with sadness as Vettel cruises to fourth title

 
Julian Harris
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RED BULL’S Sebastian Vettel cemented his place in the Formula One record books yesterday by storming to a fourth straight world championship – yet admitted the season had been marred by the jeers of fans that have accompanied many of his podium celebrations.

The German finished the Indian Grand Prix nearly 30 seconds ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg to record his 10th victory of the season and clinch the drivers’ title with three races left on the calendar.

In-form Frenchman Romain Grosjean executed a bold one-stop strategy to guide his Lotus home in third place, while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso – Vettel’s nearest title challenger – suffered a broken front wing early on and finished outside the points. Britain’s Lewis Hamilton slipped from third on the grid to end sixth, yet all the focus was on Vettel.

“It has been hard for me in particular – to be booed when you have not done anything wrong was hard. But I think I answered things on the track,” said an emotional Vettel. “I want to say a big thank you to everyone who is behind the team, it has not been an easy season. From the outside people will think it was easy but it wasn’t.”

Vettel also thanked Indian fans at the New Delhi track. The majority had enthusiastically cheered him to victory, in contrast to other races where supporters of rival teams have booed Vettel’s podium celebrations.

Frustration at Red Bull’s dominance has provoked the boos, while some fans still resent Vettel for defying team orders to steal a first-placed finish from team-mate Mark Webber at Malaysia earlier in 2013.

Despite the ill-feeling, Vettel has now won more world titles than F1 greats such as Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and British icon Sir Jackie Stewart. However, he still trails his boyhood hero, seven-time winner Michael Schumacher, and Juan Manuel Fangio who won five championships in just seven years during the 1950s. He could surpass his previous record of 11 grand prix victories in a single season, from 2011, and, if he wins all three remaining races in Abu Dhabi, the US and Brazil, will equal Schumacher’s all-time best of 13. That would also see him match Alberto Ascari’s nine straight wins.

Tyre strategy dominated yesterday’s race. Every team was obliged to use the softer tyre, which was extremely prone to blistering, at least once. Vettel started on softs but boxed on just the second lap to switch to the medium compound.

Yet just 11 laps later he had weaved his way through the field to get back up to third, and by lap 29 was leading. Red Bull seemed to be on for a 1-2 finish yet Webber was hit by a problem with his car’s alternator and was forced to retire on lap 40.

Red Bull were fined £21,300 after the race as punishment for Vettel celebrating with so-called doughnut spins in front of the grandstand.

F1 RECORDS

Most drivers’ championships
7: Michael Schumacher

5: Juan Manuel Fangio

4: Alain Prost; Sebastian Vettel

3: Jack Brabham; Jackie Stewart; Niki Lauda; Nelson Piquet; Ayrton Senna

Most consecutive drivers’ titles
5: Michael Schumacher (2000-04)

4: Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-57); Sebastian Vettel (2010-13)

Most race wins in a season
13: Michael Schumacher (2004)

11: Sebstian Vettel (2011); Michael Schumacher (2002)

10*: Sebastian Vettel (2013)

*Season incomplete