Jenson Button took his third win of the season at this morning’s Japanese Grand Prix, leading home Fernando Alonso and – as if it was ever in doubt – record-breaking double world champion Sebastian Vettel. Though he did well to cover a move from Button off the line, Vettel was eventually leap-frogged after the second round of pit stops, with his Red Bull failing to cope as well as the McLarens and Ferraris with the tyre-punishing twists of Suzuka. Mark Webber finished fourth, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who brought out the safety car on lap 25 following yet another tangle with Felipe Massa, which took a chunk out of the Brazilian’s front wing. Michael Schumacher enjoyed another strong race to finish a solid sixth, while Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg also picked up some points.
So that’s that – Sebastian Vettel is Formula One’s youngest ever double world champion, and the first man to pick up the title with four races to spare since Michael Schumacher in 2004.
Feels sort of anti-climactic, doesn’t it? Given that most of his rivals had given up on the season by the half-way point, they really should’ve handed Vettel the trophy back in Germany. That’s not to say that a dominant, one-sided season can’t be a spectacle – they’ll be talking about that four-hour epic in Canada, if nothing else, for decades to come – it’s just hard to get excited about something that’s looked inevitable for months.
Still, what is exciting is that we now know the identity of this era’s first legendary driver. And, as sick as we are about the fact that he doesn’t have a Union Jack on his helmet, thinking about the lad’s potential is seriously dizzying. Since his debut in 2007, he’s won 19 races, been on pole 27 times and amassed a fortune that doesn’t even bear thinking about – all before his 25th birthday. At Vettel’s age, Ayrton Senna was in his rookie year, and we were still living with our mum.
So, how long can Sebastian Vettel keep on winning? Assuming he’s got another decade of his career left to run, we’d happily put money on another three world titles. It’s unlikely any of them will be as easy as the infamous cakewalk of 2011 but still, we’re going to stick our neck out and say that this young guy from Heppenheim has just put himself in the position to become one of the all-time greats of his sport.
Of course, there’s always the chance he’ll do a Fernando Alonso and spend the next five years getting shown up by the latest rookies. But it’s been a long time since Formula One has had a hero so consistent, so level-headed and so damn fast as Sebastian Vettel, and something tells us that the domination is only just beginning.
What do you reckon? How many more titles can Vettel win? Here’s how they finished:
1. Jenson Button
2. Fernando Alonso
3. Sebastian Vettel
4. Mark Webber
5. Lewis Hamilton
6. Michael Schumacher
7. Felipe Massa
8. Sergio Perez
9. Vitaly Petrov
10. Nico Rosberg
11. Adrian Sutil
12. Paul Di Resta
13. Kamui Kobayashi
14. Pastor Maldonado
15. Jaime Alguersuari
16. Bruno Senna
17. Rubens Barrichello
18. Heikki Kovalainen
19. Jarno Trulli
20. Timo Glock
21. Jerome d’Ambrosio
22. Daniel Ricciardo
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi
24. Sebastien Buemi (DNF)