SEBASTIAN Vettel cast his mind back to a time when he put pictures of Michael Schumacher on his bedroom wall and played with toy cars in a sandpit – and struggled to come to terms with his achievement yesterday.
“I am overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say but it is the best day of my life so far,” the Red Bull driver said.
At the age of 26, the German had become only the fourth Formula 1 driver – after Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, Schumacher and Frenchman Alain Prost – to win four titles and, by some way, the youngest.
Vettel’s victory in the Indian Grand Prix was his sixth in a row, tenth for the season, and his third in three appearances at the Buddh International Circuit. No other driver has won there.
To put Vettel’s meteoric career into perspective, Prost had to wait until he was 26 before he could celebrate his first grand prix win. Vettel has now won 36.
Schumacher, the previous youngest four-times world champion, had to wait until he was 32 to celebrate the feat. Prost took his fourth at 38, Fangio at 45.
“It’s very difficult to understand,” said the man who could one day go on to match Schumacher’s record seven titles. “Put it this way, I was watching TV, I was watching Formula 1 when Fernando [Alonso] started to win races [in 2003]. I had pictures of Michael Schumacher on my wall when I was a teenager,” he said.
“I remember 1995, 1996 and 1997 and I looked up to him but it’s weird to think that’s me now. It is funny because I am still a kid and people ask for my autograph.”
Vettel has a detailed knowledge of the sport and spoke in humble tones of those he had now joined – as well as others such as Britain’s Stirling Moss, who never won a championship but also ranks as one of the greats.
Moss finished runner-up in the championship four times in a row between 1955 and 1958, losing out to Fangio in three of them.
“To win four titles, I don’t know, it’s just a big number,” Vettel told a post-race news conference. “To join people like that [Moss], Michael, Fangio, Prost. It’s very difficult for me to put into perspective. I’m way too young to understand what it means,” said the champion.
“I might be 60 one day and maybe then I understand but nobody cares any more. But I care.”
Despite his tender years, Vettel said he was grown up enough to understand why his season has also been punctuated by boos from the crowd when he stood on the podium, notably in Monza and Singapore.
“To be booed when I had not done anything wrong was hard, but I think I answered the things on the track which I am very pleased about,” he said.
“I don’t blame the people that booed, you know,” added the German. “If I go to the football stadium, for example, I cheer for the home team. The guy who scored a goal you don’t appreciate him being an amazing player and you might boo because other people boo.”
Vettel explained how he had received a letter after Singapore from one of the fans, apologising for his actions.
“I think if people think about it, they understand. But, in the heat of the moment, you know, there’s nobody really to blame. Somebody starts, some people join in, others don’t,” said the Red Bull driver.
“We are fans of the sport and if some people have a passion for Ferrari, they don’t like it if somebody else wins. It’s not necessarily my fault. I think I’m mature enough to understand that.”
In India yesterday, there were no boos. Only cheers. And a happy young German swigging from a very large bottle of champagne.
Vettel’s win also wrapped up the constructors’ title for Red Bull and team principal Christian Horner led the praise for Vettel’s achievement over the team radio, telling his charge: “You’ve done it in style. You join the greats – well done.”
Afterwards, Horner added: “To achieve four double world championships is the culmination of an enormous amount of dedication and commitment from the whole team.”
The Adrian Newey-designed cars have won ten times this season in the hands of Vettel.
There was a sting in the tail on Vettel’s big day, however, when he was summoned before the stewards to explain his actions after the race.
Deciding to celebrate his title with the fans, Vettel turned doughnuts on the pit straight before dropping to his knees in mock-prayer to the all-conquering Red Bull RB9 that has seldom failed him all year.
Although a great spectacle for the worldwide TV audience, the FIA took a dim view and hit Vettel with a reprimand and Red Bull a €25,000 (£21,300) fine.
The FIA said Vettel had fallen foul of the Article 43.3 of the sporting regulations by failing to return to parc ferme – a secure area where post-race checks are carried out on all the cars – “without unnecessary delay”.
The FIA accepted “special circumstances” were in play and that contributed to the decision to let Vettel off with a reprimand, although Red Bull were found to have not “sufficiently” instructed the German to return to parc ferme.