RED BULL’S Sebastian Vettel was last night struggling to come to terms with his achievement after becoming the youngest world champion in the history of Formula One.
Vettel had not topped the drivers’ standings before arriving at the final race of a dramatic season, but led from start to finish in Abu Dhabi as his rivals fell away. Britain’s Lewis Hamilton took second place, and fourth in the championship, but title favourite Fernando Alonso could only finish seventh while Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber was eighth.
German Vettel, at 23 years and 135 days, beat Hamilton’s record by 166 days, and wept as he crossed the line to finish four points ahead of Alonso.
“It’s like a dream and I can hardly believe it,” he said. “When I got up this morning, I tried to stay calm and not speak too much to many people. But now I just feel I want to thank everyone here. I really can’t hardly believe it.”
Alonso would have denied Vettel the title had he finished in the top four but had to settle for second in the standings, and the Red Bull garage kept their man in the dark as the race approached its finale.
“On the last 10 laps, honestly, I didn’t know what was happening,” Vettel added, after his fifth win of the season. “I didn’t know and my engineer didn’t tell me. When he came on the radio he told me and it was amazing.”
Alonso and Webber were both hindered by early tyre changes, while Hamilton, who needed a miracle to win a second title, was prevented from attacking Vettel by Renault’s Robert Kubica. Last season’s champion Jenson Button finished third and ended fifth in the standings.
Webber, who led his colleague for the second half of the season, said: “Congratulations to Seb and to the team. Two world championships – that’s not a bad season. There’s quite a few emotions when you just miss out. It’s a shame.”
Hamilton, champion in 2008, said: “Hopefully next year our car will be even better and we’ll be able to compete from the first race onwards.”