Sebastian Vettel has become the youngest world champion in the history of Formula One. If Vettel appeared calm before the final race in Abu Dhabi, the 23-year-old German was overcome with emotion afterwards.
Not just a champion, but the youngest in F1 history
Sebastian Vettel cried tears of joy after Sunday's race in Abu Dhabi, after his team radioed in to tell him he had clinched the World Championship, seemingly against all the odds.
"Unbelievable. Thank you lads. I love you," the 23-year-old German said with a quivering voice from the cockpit. After that, all you could really make out on the transmission were loud cries of celebration from the man with the glittering helmet.
"Baby Schumi" was what the German tabloid press once called him, but it was Michael Schumacher himself who pointed out earlier this year that Vettel had outgrown that nickname, and the youngster has now proved beyond any doubt that as world champion, he should stand in nobody's shadow.
"I didn't know anything until I passed the checkered flag"
This world championship is the high point of an already stellar career. Vettel was born in 1987 in the southwestern German town of Heppenheim, and his father Norbert ensured that Sebastian was bitten by the motorsport bug very early.
Aged four, Vettel first thrashed a go-kart around his parents' driveway, and his first successes - as with almost all modern racers - followed racing in go-karts in his youth. Eventually, the youngster was noticed, and promoted to the single-seater Formula BMW racing series. As a debutante, Vettel was immediately runner-up, and the next year he came back and won an incredible 18 out of 20 races.
Vettel's tasted champagne as a winner five times in 2010
Vettel moved on to Formula 3, where he never managed to claim the grand prize, but that was because his fame was already overtaking him and his rise up the ladder was accelerating.
In 2006, he was given his first shot in a Formula One car in a young driver test, immediately posting the fastest time. The next year, in Indianapolis, an injury to then BMW-Sauber driver Robert Kubica gave Vettel his chance on a race weekend. Still in his teens, he promptly became not only the youngest driver to compete in a Grand Prix (a record he has since lost), but also the youngest-ever points-scorer in the sport's history - bringing his BMW home in eighth on his debut.
The early-achiever continued tearing up F1's age-related record book in the following season. Driving for the underfunded Toro Rosso team, Vettel became the youngest ever pole-sitter and then winner in a single wet weekend in Monza, doing the double for his minor team as the championship battle raged around him.
Two years on, after being promoted to the Red Bull outfit, Vettel has completed his CV, becoming the youngest world champion in the sport's history, displacing 2008 winner Lewis Hamilton by less than a year.
"I am a bit speechless. I don't know what you are supposed to say at this moment," a usually loquacious Vettel admitted in the post-race press conference. "To be honest I didn't know anything until I passed the checkered flag."
Vettel not only needed a win, championship leader Fernando Alonso had to finish fifth or lower for him to win the title, but the Spanish Ferrari driver had a poor race, and could only salvage seventh.
"I hate losing"
The youngster's love of winning is displayed by his trademark index-finger celebration
Vettel - never one to aim low - points to the three Michaels as heroes of his childhood: Michael Schumacher, Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. Vettel even dreamed of becoming a musician as a kid.
"It was funny when I finally realized that I didn't have the voice for it," he admitted in later life.
Nevertheless, Vettel's passion remained - he's a huge Beatles fan and record collector to this day.
Vettel also tried out a number of sports in his youth before settling on motor racing.
"I never scored many goals, and didn't even get called on to play that often," Vettel lamented, recalling his time on the football pitch. He also tried tennis, table tennis, and even beach volleyball, but never settled for long.
"I was just never the best, so I stopped playing. I hate losing."
Finally, Vettel started following in the first Michael's footsteps more seriously, turning his attention to racing – a sport whose ethos he seems to enjoy.
"It's irrelevant whether you're second or fifth. The only important thing is being No. 1."
With 10 pole positions, five wins, and now a world championship in 2010, Vettel has achieved that goal.
Author: Laura Doeing (msh)
Editor: Chuck Penfold