WORLD champion Sebastian Vettel secured victory in Abu Dhabi as he continues to cement his place as a legend of Formula 1.
The 26-year-old Red Bull driver secured his fourth title in India last weekend, but did not let up as he stormed to a lights-to-flag finish at the Yas Marina circuit with the shackles now off.
Vettel once again left the entire field, including team-mate and pole sitter Mark Webber, in his wake as the German won by more than 30 seconds for his seventh race win in succession.
That means he joined seven-times champion Michael Schumacher in recording seven successive race wins in a calendar year, with Alberto Ascari holding the overall record for consecutive victories, having managed nine – split between the 1952 and 1953 seasons.
It was also the 37th win of Vettel’s career, taking him to within four victories of the late Ayrton Senna, but the youngest quadruple champion in history is not motivated by becoming a record-breaker.
“It [breaking records] doesn’t make me jump into the car, but it is a shock when you mention these [Schumacher and Ascari],” he said.
“I know that any kind of record you talk about, Michael will be involved. The numbers are not that important to be me but, equally, they make me very, very proud. If you equal something or you’re close to something then the guys you talk about are the most special drivers in the world. I don’t think I’m old enough to realise yet.”
With wins becoming par for the course for Vettel during the second half of the season, he was also keen to stress that the job of leading from the front is not as easy as some people believe.
“The thing is people see seven race wins,” he added. “People don’t see the challenge it takes every single race to nail it. It has been exceptional. The fact that we got everything right: smooth pit stops, reliability. I think it just all came together. I think it was a perfect day for us.”
Webber had caused a minor shock by beating his seemingly all-conquering team-mate to pole position on Saturday, but the Australian, who will leave Formula 1 at the end of the season, did not enjoy the best start and slipped behind both Vettel and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg before the first corner.
He fought back to pass Rosberg later in the race, but could do nothing about the sheer domination of Vettel, with Webber admitting his partner was out in a class of his own.
“I don’t think the start was decisive,” said Webber. “Sebastian was in another category today, so it was probably the maximum result even if we have got away in front. He was quick and very, very strong and then it was obviously a recovery job against Nico who got a better start.”
Rosberg held on for third place as Mercedes look to keep hold of second place in the constructors’ championship at the expense of Ferrari.
The second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton had a quieter race and brought his car home seventh after a late surge towards the back of Paul Di Resta’s sixth-placed Force India proved fruitless.
Kimi Raikkonen’s weekend was summed up as he collided with a Caterham going into the first corner, with his Lotus unable to continue. The Finn, who claimed on Friday he has raced unpaid all season, had originally qualified fifth, only to be excluded from the session after his car failed a scrutineering test.
That put last year’s race winner at the back of the grid and, in his attempt to make up places early on, he was soon on his way home after suffering suspension damage.
His team-mate Romain Grosjean has started to become the main man at Lotus and the Frenchman once again finished well as he took fourth place.
Ferrari dropped 11 points behind Mercedes as Fernando Alonso could only manage fifth despite a late surge following a switch to the faster, soft tyres.
It could have been worse for the Spaniard had he not escaped punishment from the stewards after leaving the track following his second stop to avoid contact with Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.
Felipe Massa was eighth in the second Ferrari, while McLaren’s Sergio Perez and the Force India of Adrian Sutil rounded out the points scorers.