Could Vettel be the next Schumacher in F1?
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Sports Network) -
Move over, Michael Schumacher. Sebastian Vettel is Germany's next Formula One hero.
At age 23 years and 135 days, Vettel became the youngest driver in F1's 61- year history to win a world championship. He also joined Schumacher as the only Germans to earn a title in the sport.
Vettel, in his second season with Red Bull Racing, clinched the championship after winning Sunday's season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. His victory, coupled with a seventh-place finish for Fernando Alonso and an eighth-place run for Mark Webber, allowed Vettel to win the title by four points over Alonso and 14 points ahead of Vettel's teammate Webber.
Heading into Abu Dhabi, Vettel trailed leader Alonso by 15 points, while Webber was just eight points behind the Ferrari driver.
"When I crossed the line, I did not know if it was enough or not," Vettel said. "All weekend, I did not try to focus on the championship as the situation was pretty clear. We had to try to win this race, do our maximum and the rest was up to the others. I did the in-lap and just enjoyed it."
Vettel graced the front covers of most German newspapers on Monday. Germany now has a new star.
And Vettel likely will be a star in that country for quite some time.
Vettel broke Lewis Hamilton's 2008 record as the youngest F1 champion. Hamilton was 23 years and 300 days old when he clinched his title by a single point over Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Sebastian Vettel broke Lewis Hamilton's 2008 record as the youngest F1 champion.
"When it comes to records, after Lewis won the championship, I thought to myself, it will be questionable if there will ever be anyone younger than him," Vettel said. "And to be fair, he missed it by only one point the year before (2007). You can argue, but records are there to be broken in a way."
Schumacher owns a record seven F1 championships, but his first one did not come until he was age 25. He drove for Benetton when he clinched his first title in 1994. Schumacher claimed his second consecutive championship with Benetton in '95. While driving for Ferrari, he won a record five straight titles from 2000-04.
After a three-year retirement, Schumacher returned to F1 for the 2010 season, teaming up with German compatriot Nico Rosberg at the newly-formed Mercedes GP.
The 41-year-old Schumacher concluded his comeback season with a frightening opening-lap crash at Abu Dhabi. Vitantonio Liuzzi's Force India car slammed into Schumacher's car and then went on top of it after Schumacher made contact with Rosberg and spun around.
In addition to his seven championships, Schumacher holds several other F1 records, including 91 career grand prix victories.
Vettel is six titles and 81 wins away from matching Schumacher's two biggest records in the sport, but Vettel already has set a few records of his own.
Not only is Vettel the youngest F1 champion, but he's the youngest pole and race winner as well.
After Vettel's stunning pole and race win in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix in Monza, the press covering the worldwide racing circuit nicknamed him "Baby Shumi."
The baby has grown up quickly.
Vettel had his share of highs and lows during his championship season. Despite winning five grand prix, including the last two, Vettel dealt with several mechanical issues and on-track mishaps throughout the year. He finished 15th or worse in four of the 19 grand prix this season.
When Vettel suffered engine failure and finished 17th in last month's Korean Grand Prix, it looked as though his title hopes were fading away, as he trailed Alonso by 25 points at the time.
But Vettel overcame adversity by winning the penultimate race in Brazil and the season-finale in Abu Dhabi. He was awarded 25 points for each one of those victories.
"A big congratulations to Sebastian for his great victory and taking the title [Sunday]," Schumacher said. "That was extremely well done after his season was so mixed, but he was able to come back strongly in the last (two) races."
Vettel currently has an agreement with Red Bull to drive for the team until the end of 2011, with an option for 2012. Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz is hopeful to keep the new world champion in one of his cars for many years to come.
"He will be a world champion a few times more, provided he is sitting in the right car," Mateschitz told Austrian television ORG. "We will do our best to give that car to him."
Vettel someday matching or surpassing Schumacher's record number of championships and race wins certainly will be a tall order, but something that is not unimaginable.
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