Sebastian Vettel became the youngest world champion in Formula One history with a fantastic drive in the season finale at Abu Dhabi.
The 23-year-old German led comfortably from the front, saving a few laps before Jenson Button made his late pitstop. But it was what happened behind Sebastian that changed the course of the world championship.
Pre-race favourite Fernando Alonso only needed to come home in the top four to secure the title, even if Vettel won, but his day – and title hopes – were ruined when the Spaniard spent most of the race looking at the back of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault in the lower reaches of the top ten, thanks to an early shuffling of the race order.
Instead, Nico Rosberg and the Renaults of Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov capitalised on running an alternative tyre strategies offered by an early-race safety car period to finish fourth, fifth and sixth, and relegate Alonso and Mark Webber down the order.
The vital chain of events was triggered by Webber’s early pitstop to discard the super-soft option tyre, on which the Australian was slipping backwards from Alonso.
Webber resumed on lap 13 in P16, behind Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso. Felipe Massa had been running closely behind Webber, so Ferrari responded by pitting him to see if he could get out ahead of the Red Bull.
When he emerged behind, and Webber lapped 0.8 seconds faster than Alonso next time round, Ferrari made the decision to bring the Spaniard in to ensure he stayed in front of his championship rival.
He did, but that strategy failed to take into account Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov, who had pitted under the safety car period. That meant that although Alonso had Webber covered off, the Ferrari driver was nowhere near the fourth place he needed to deny Vettel the drivers’ title.
Not only that, but while Alonso was stacked behind Petrov – with Rosberg another two seconds up the road – Kubica stayed out on a long first stint and jumped up the order. His Renault had started on the harder prime tyre after failing to make it through to Q3, but that allowed a late pitstop.
That mistake from the Ferrari team cost Alonso the championship and it was frustrating for the Spaniard as he was stuck behind the Renault. It’s quite ironic that the team in which Fernando won the championship twice has preventing him on taking the title for the third time…
Anyway, Kubica found himself in the thick of the battle for the lead when Vettel and Hamilton rejoined after their pitstops. With Alonso so far down the race order, Hamilton became the biggest threat to Vettel’s championship. But the McLaren driver couldn’t find a way around the Renault, and by the time Kubica pitted on lap 45, Vettel was ten seconds ahead and in control.
But in that time, Kubica had extended the gap back to Alonso’s pack to 24 seconds – plenty for his own pitstop. He resumed ahead of team-mate Petrov, with Alonso seventh.
Button, who was running just five seconds ahead of Alonso in the early stages, remained in third – easily clear of the Rosberg group by the time Jenson resumed from his pitstop on lap 39.
The first-lap safety car period that later proved so pivotal to the championship was, coincidentally, partly caused by Rosberg – the driver to benefit most from it.
His Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher was delayed on the inside of the track by the defending Rubens Barrichello. Rosberg tried to drive around his team-mate into the chicane but they were squeezed together and Schumacher spun on the exit.
Just as he was trying to restart, Vitantonio Liuzzi arrived on the scene, in the middle of a pack with nowhere to go. His Force India hit and climbed up the front of the Mercedes and blocked the track. It was this that prompted Rosberg and Petrov to make their early pitstops.
So a fantastic win for Sebastian Vettel. Despite the bad luck and crashes this season, the achievements set by Vettel has been remarkable. Ten pole positions and five victories. The young German deserves the championship thanks to a great car, the Renault-powered RB6, and the team, Red Bull Racing. Double world champions!
Race results from Abu Dhabi, 55 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h39m36.837s
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +10.1s
3. Button McLaren-Mercedes +11.0s
4. Rosberg Mercedes +30.7s
5. Kubica Renault +39.0s
6. Petrov Renault +43.5s
7. Alonso Ferrari +43.7s
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault +44.2s
9. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +50.2s
10. Massa Ferrari +50.8s
11. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari +51.5s
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +57.6s
13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +58.3s
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +59.5s
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1m03.1s
16. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth +1m04.7s
17. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth +1 lap
18. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
19. Senna HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
20. Klien HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth +4 laps
Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1m41.274s
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 44 laps
Schumacher Mercedes 1 lap
Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 19:
1. Vettel 256
2. Alonso 252
3. Webber 242
4. Hamilton 240
5. Button 214
6. Massa 144
7. Rosberg 142
8. Kubica 136
9. Schumacher 72
10. Barrichello 47
11. Sutil 47
12. Kobayashi 32
13. Petrov 27
14. Hulkenberg 22
15. Liuzzi 21
16. Buemi 8
17. De la Rosa 6
18. Heidfeld 6
19. Alguersuari 5
1. Red Bull-Renault 498
2. McLaren-Mercedes 454
3. Ferrari 396
4. Mercedes 214
5. Renault 163
6. Williams-Cosworth 69
7. Force India-Mercedes 68
8. Sauber-Ferrari 44
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 13