One day, Sebastian Vettel says this will all sink in. Right now, he’s still too young to appreciate his fourth straight Formula One championship.
The 26-year-old Red Bull driver won the Indian Grand Prix from the pole Sunday with a clinical ride. He became the third driver to win four consecutive F1 championships, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Vettel is also the youngest four-time world champion by eight years.
“I’m way too young to understand what it means,” he said. “I might be 60 one day, maybe then I will understand, but nobody cares anymore. I care. It’s difficult to realize something that nobody can take away from you.”
The German has won 10 races this season, including the last six. This time, he finished almost 30 seconds ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. Romain Grosjean was third for Lotus after starting from 17th on the grid.
“You’ve won it in style,” an elated Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Vettel over the car radio immediately after the race. “Brilliant stuff. You’ve joined the greats.”
After taking the checkered flag, Vettel performed several donuts on the track before climbing from his car, acknowledging the crowd and kneeling with his head bowed to the track. He then climbed the pit lane fence to embrace members of his team.
“I’m overwhelmed, don’t know what to say,” Vettel said immediately after the race. “It is one of the best days of my life.
Vettel was later reprimanded and Red Bull fined $34, 500 by race stewards for the exuberant display and failure to “proceed directly” from the circuit to the security area “without delay.”
Red Bull also claimed its fourth straight constructors title despite losing Mark Webber to mechanical problems while in second place.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was fourth with teammate Fernando Alonso finishing 11th.
“Today is the day to congratulate (Vettel) and for him to enjoy the championship,” Alonso said, who is 115 points behind the Red Bull driver in second place in the standings with three races remaining.
Vettel, taking occasional swigs from his celebratory magnum of champagne, thanked his team and his family in a news conference. He spoke of his respect for the Indian people and his rivals, Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Webber among them.
“To win four titles, I don’t know, it’s just a big number you know?” Vettel said. “Fangio put the number of five titles and everybody appreciated him as the best driver in the world. Michael (Schumacher) came along … it’s incredible that one guy managed to score more championships (seven) than (Fangio) did.”
Starting on the quick but fragile soft tires, Vettel lasted just one lap before switching to the medium compounds, emerging from the pit lane in 17th place.
Vettel wove his way back toward the front, gradually narrowing the gap and passing McLaren driver Sergio Perez on the 22nd lap to move into second behind Webber.
Webber eventually entered the pits for his first tire change to soft tires on the 29th lap and Vettel made his second and last stop three laps later to new medium tires, returning to the track just over eight seconds behind Webber. When Webber switched back to medium tires two laps later he in effect handed the race to Vettel.
Red Bull then ordered a stunned Webber to stop while in second place on the 42nd lap because of a problem with his alternator.
“Disappointing, but there’s not much I can do,” Webber said. “There was something wrong with the car, so we had to stop straight away.”
Vettel, meanwhile, was struggling to come to terms with the scope of his achievement.
“It was a difficult emotion to cross the line and feel happy all of a sudden because you’re in a rhythm, you know what you’re doing, you have a routine,” he said. “I think it takes time to understand what happened.”