Sebastian Vettel joined the ranks of Formula One’s most-successful drivers by winning his fourth straight world championship at the Indian Grand Prix.
Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina, France’s Alain Prost and Vettel’s fellow German Michael Schumacher are the only other drivers to have won at least four titles.
At 26, Vettel is by far the youngest. Fangio won his fourth championship when he was 45, Prost when he was 38 and Schumacher at 32. Only Fangio and Schumacher also secured four in a row.
“I had pictures of Michael Schumacher on my wall when I was a teenager,” Vettel said after winning yesterday’s race near New Delhi. “I spoke to him a couple of days ago and it’s so odd when I used to think he was god, but now I see him as the man and not the driver.”
Red Bull Racing’s Vettel secured the title with three races to spare, extending his lead over nearest rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari to 115 points. Red Bull also won the constructors’ championship for the fourth straight season.
“I congratulate Sebastian Vettel,” Alonso told the British Broadcasting Corp. “We need to start thinking about next year and make things more difficult for him.”
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes was second in the 60-lap race at the Buddh International Circuit and Lotus’s Romain Grosjean came third after starting 17th on the grid. Spain’s Alonso finished 11th, failing to add to his points tally.
Vettel started in his seventh pole position of the season and immediately opened a gap of more than two seconds before stopping on only the second lap to change tires. He rejoined in 17th position but climbed swiftly through the field into third by lap 13.
On lap 21 he moved into second behind teammate Mark Webber and took the lead when the Australian came into the pits on lap 28. Webber eventually quit the race when his alternator failed.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa came fourth ahead of Sergio Perez of McLaren, Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton and Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen, who will drive for Ferrari next season. Force India pair Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil, and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.
Vettel has won 10 of the 16 races so far this season, including the past six in a row. Schumacher won 11 of 17 events in 2002, prompting television ratings to decline. Formula One altered the rules on qualifying and point-scoring after that season in an effort make racing more unpredictable.
“Words fail me for what Sebastian’s done,” Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said. “Not just this year, but over the last four years. I’m so proud for what he’s achieved.”
Going into the final three races, Vettel has 322 points atop the series standings, followed by Alonso (207), Raikkonen (183) and Hamilton (169).
Vettel, who has won each of the three Indian Grands Prix to be staged, also guaranteed Red Bull its fourth constructors’ title in a row with yesterday’s victory. That gives its British car designer Adrian Newey his 10th team championship since 1992.
The Milton Keynes, England-based team is bankrolled by energy drink maker Red Bull GmbH, which bought it from Ford Motor Co.’s Jaguar Racing in 2004.
“He is just an ordinary kid who has not lost sight of who he is despite the success he has had,” Newey said of Vettel. “He is very humble, very intelligent, he has that process like all the greats of being able to drive and be conscious of what is going on around him all the time.”
Vettel paid tribute to his team.
“The car was phenomenal,” he said. “It was phenomenal all season. I couldn’t ask for anymore.”
The next Grand Prix takes place Nov. 3 in Abu Dhabi before the 2013 series concludes with races in the U.S. and Brazil. Vettel would match Schumacher’s single-season record of 13 victories by winning all three remaining events.
Schumacher won five of his seven championships in a row with Ferrari through 2004 and Fangio took four of his five in straight seasons through 1957. Prost won his four titles between 1985 and 1993.
“To join people like that is very difficult for me to put into perspective,” Vettel said. “I am far too young to understand what it means.”