SAO PAULO — Sebastian Vettel became the youngest triple champion in Formula One history on Sunday when he finished sixth behind the victorious Jenson Button in a tumultuous Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old German, who was involved in an opening-lap collision, made light of the damage to his Red Bull car as he fought through the field in a dramatic race run in treacherous rain-swept conditions at the Interlagos circuit.
Vettel’s only title rival, two-time champion Spaniard Fernnando Alonso, finished a fine second after a courageous drive for Ferrari, but it was not enough to overhaul a pre-race 13-point deficit as his German rival won the crown by just three points.
The race was littered with accidents and incidents and ended behind a safety car with Vettel bringing his car home in the rain in tears, unable to respond to the screamed congratulations from Red Bull team chief Christian Horner.
Vettel became only the third driver in Formula One history to win three successive titles, equalling the feats of the great Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio and his own childhood idol, Michael Schumacher, who finished seventh for Mercedes in his final race before retiring.
Alonso’s Ferrari team-mate, local hero Felipe Massa, drove brilliantly to finish third ahead of Australian Mark Webber in the second Red Bull and German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India. Hulkenberg played a prominent role in the race, not only leading for a spell but also crashing into Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren to wreck the Briton’s hopes of a triumphant conclusion to his career with the British team just when he looked sure of winning.
Vettel was sixth, Schumacher seventh in his last race before retirement and Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne eighth for Toro Rosso ahead of Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber and Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus.
Vettel, whose Red Bull team took a third constructors’ championship in succession last weekend in Texas, finished with 281 points and Alonso with 278.
It was Briton Button’s first win in Brazil, his third of the season and the 15th of his career.
In steering his Red Bull car to three back-to-back world championships, a feat fulfilled in his 101st Grand Prix, Vettel confirmed his status as motor racing’s ultimate record-breaker.
Making his debut in 2007, breaking records as a 19-year-old wunderkind and known as much for his love of British humour and relaxed nature, he was still able to stroll around the paddock without being mobbed.
The boy from Heppenheim, who has two older sisters and one younger brother, was that rare breed — a German who understood English jokes, laughed at John Cleese and old Monty Python sketches and taped episodes of Little Britain, his favourite show.
His recorded collection at his Swiss home is often raided in rare off-duty moments. But he also loves motor racing and understands its demands, glamour and history, characteristics of his outlook that have remained with him these past two years of mounting success and glory.
For Vettel, much as he loves his speed, his machines and his fun, the big salary, lavish lifestyle and public spotlight are not big motivators. He races rather for the thrill and love of the experience. In his words, it is all about "passion".
And it is the same passion that controls him now as that which has seen him revel in his racing throughout his life since first gaining a taste for speed and thrills. Born in the decidedly ordinary German town of Heppenheim, on July 3 1987, Vettel is the youngest triple champion.
Vettel has done it all and is the youngest achiever of many Formula One landmarks: youngest to take part, to race, to score points, to win and to triumph as champion…. And so on.
His level of success has been extraordinary. In becoming a true triple champion, it should be measured by noting that it is a feat that eluded many great racers including Australian Jack Brabham, Briton Jackie Stewart, Frenchman Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna.
"It is great to enjoy all of this, the statistics and the records, but it is not what it is all about in the end," he said earlier this year. "It is about the feeling that you have."