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Vettel seals historic F1 title

Race winner Jenson Button sprays champagne on world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Race winner Jenson Button sprays champagne on world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Germany’s Sebastian Vettel became Formula One’s youngest ever back-to-back world champion yesterday when he finished third in the Japanese Grand Prix behind Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.

Sebastian Vettel, 24, who needed just one point to clinch the title, joins Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher as one of only nine drivers to successfully defend the world title.

The Red Bull driver ran down the pit lane to celebrate with his mechanics after the race, which sealed the championship with four Grands Prix remaining following a dominant season with nine wins in 15 outings.

“There are so many things you want to say, but it’s hard to remember all of them,” Vettel said.

“I’m so thankful to everyone in the team, pushing hard to build those two cars. It’s great to achieve the goal we set ourselves this year already. Today’s race we weren’t as quick on the soft tyres and we lost two positions, and it was difficult to get past Fernando.”

At just 24 years and 98 days, Vettel outstrips fellow consecutive winners Alberto Ascari, Fangio, Jack Brabham, Alain Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso as the youngest driver to achieve the feat.

Button’s victory, which came after he passed Vettel in the second round of pit stops on lap 21, was his third of the season and the 12th of his career.

The McLaren driver finished 1.1 seconds ahead of Alonso, of Ferrari, with Vettel’s third place easily enough to secure the world title.

Mark Webber was fourth for Red Bull, eight seconds adrift of Button, while Lewis Hamilton, of McLaren, had another controversial race, clashing again with Felipe Massa, of Ferrari, en route to finishing fifth.

Schumacher was sixth for Mercedes, briefly leading the race after the final round of pit stops, while Massa was seventh.

Vettel didn’t lead last year’s championship until after the final race in Abu Dhabi, but this season he has never been headed in the standings.

Button needed to win the final five races of the season and have Vettel not score a point to extend the championship to next weekend’s race in South Korea, and he made a strong start, shaping up to pass Vettel into the first corner.

But the German defended robustly, prompting Button to tell his McLaren team over the radio that “he’s got to get a penalty for that”. But stewards decided to take no further action.

Vettel led the race through the first set of pit stops, but after re-passing Hamilton on lap eight, Button narrowed the gap and finally passed the German as he returned to the track following his tyre-change on lap 21.

On the next lap, Hamilton and Massa clashed at the final chicane, with a piece of front wing from Massa’s car left in the middle of the circuit, prompting a three-lap safety car period to remove the debris.

The incident was investigated, but no action was taken. The clash follows a series of bad-tempered incidents this year between the pair, with Hamilton running into the back of Massa in the most recent race in Singapore.

Button took control of the race after the lap 28 re-start, setting a new fastest lap on three successive circuits as he extended his margin to 2.5secs.

He briefly relinquished the lead to Schumacher as the German waited until lap 41 until making his final stop for tyres, and then maintained a gap of more than a second despite Alonso closing rapidly in the final laps.

Last 10 champions
2002 Schumacher (Ferrari); 2003 Schumacher (Ferrari); 2004 Schumacher (Ferrari); 2005 Alonso (Renault); 2006 Alonso (Renault); 2007 Raikkonen (Ferrari); 2008 Hamilton (McLaren); 2009 Button (Brawn); 2010 Vettel (Red Bull); 2011 Vettel (Red Bull).

Japanese GP result

1. Jenson Button (McLaren) - 1hr 30min 53.427sec
2. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) at 1.160
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) at 2.006
4. Mark Webber (Red Bull) at 8.071
5. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) at 24.268
6. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) at 27.120
7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) at 28.240
8. Sergio Perez (Sauber) at 39.377
9. Vitaly Petrov (Lotus-Renault) at 42.607
10. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) at 44.322
11. Adrian Sutil (Force India) at 54.447
12. Paul di Resta (Force India) at 1:02.326
13. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) at 1:03.705
14. Pastor Maldonado (Williams F1) at 1:04.194
15. Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) at 1:06.623
16. Bruno Senna (Lotus-Renault) at 1:12.628
17. Rubens Barrichello (Williams F1) at 1:14.191
18. Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus) at 1:27.824
19. Jarno Trulli (Lotus) at 1:36.140
20. Timo Glock (Virgin Racing) - 2 laps
21. Jerome d’Ambrosio (Virgin Racing) - 2 laps
22. Daniel Ricciardo (Hispania) - 2 laps
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Hispania) - 3 laps

Retired
Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) - 12th lap

Fastest lap: Button (McLaren) – 1:36.568.

Next race: Korean Grand Prix – October 16.

Overall standings

Drivers
1. Vettel (GER) 324, 2. Button (GBR) 210, 3. Alonso (ESP) 202, 4. Webber (AUS) 194, 5. Hamilton (GBR) 178, 6. Massa (BRA) 90, 7. Rosberg (GER) 63, 8. Schumacher (GER) 60, 9. Petrov (RUS) 36, 10. Heidfeld (GER) 34, 11. Sutil (GER) 28, 12. Kobayashi (JPN) 27, 13. Di Resta (SCO) 20, 14. Alguersuari (ESP) 16, 15. Perez (MEX) 13, 16. Buemi (SUI) 13, 17. Barrichello (BRA) 4, 18. Senna (BRA) 2, 19. Maldonado (VEN) 1.

Constructors
1. Red Bull 518, 2. McLaren 388, 3. Ferrari 292, 4. Mercedes GP 123, 5. Lotus-Renault 72, 6. Force India 48, 7. Sauber 40, 8. Toro Rosso 29, 9. Williams F1 5.

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