Updated: 2011-10-10 08:02
Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates winning the world championship after finishing third in the Japanese F1 Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit, Oct 9, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
Last year's 'Crash Kid,' Vettel celebrates back-to-back F1 championships by finishing third in Japan
Sebastian Vettel has gone from "Crash Kid" to coronation as Formula One's youngest double world champion in little more than a year. The Red Bull driver, who in Japan on Sunday became the ninth man to celebrate back-to-back titles, looks just the same as the cheeky-grinned youngster who celebrated his first crown in Abu Dhabi last November.
And yet, as his rivals have discovered time and again this season, Germany's second world champion after Michael Schumacher has added maturity to his arsenal and accelerated away from the chasing pack.
It was at the end of August last year, after a wildly optimistic move led to a jarring collision with Jenson Button at the Belgian Grand Prix, that McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh dubbed Vettel a "Crash Kid".
Such talk seems ancient history now. This season the 24-year-old - the fifth youngest driver on the starting grid despite his achievements - has been nothing short of "Mr Consistent".
"He (Whitmarsh) has had to eat those words this year, hasn't he?" Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said with a smile.
Vettel has scored points in his last 17 races and is the only driver on the starting grid to have finished every grand prix this season.
Not only has he done that, he has won nine races and started 12 out of 15 this year on pole position. Only once has he failed to stand on the podium, and even then he finished fourth.
"Sebastian has just benefited from more experience and the level that he has operated at has been phenomenal this year," said Horner, who has the German contracted to the end of 2014.
"He really has raised the bar. He's come into the year as the reigning world champion and he's performed like a true world champion... it's been a pleasure to see."
The youngest champion, race winner, points scorer, pole sitter and driver ever to stand on the podium, Vettel has looked as assured as Schumacher in his prime.
Last season he did not lead the championship until the very end, when he won under the Yas Marina floodlights to snatch the title. This year he has led from the very start and increased his advantage race by race.
"It's easy to forget he's only just 24... its easy to under-estimate what he's achieved," said Horner.
"I think he really has taken another gear and delivered phenomenally well."
If Vettel carries on as he is for the remaining four rounds, he will only add to his records and, as a keen student of Formula One history, is sure to give it his best shot.
The performance on the track may hint at a Schumacher-like attention to detail, and he certainly puts in the hours with the engineers, but the man once dubbed "Baby Schumi" by the German media refuses to be stereotyped.
A lover of oddball British humor and of The Beatles, as well as a collector of swear words and slang in any language, the tousled youngster has a prankster's twinkle in his eye.
The carpenter's son from Heppenheim has given all his cars female names, progressing from "Kate" to "Kate's Dirty Sister," "Luscious Liz," "Randy Mandy" and this year's "Kinky Kylie".
He is also very much his own man, negotiating his own contracts, while enjoying a firm friendship with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
Ecclestone, who managed and was particularly close to German-born Austrian champion Jochen Rindt up to his death in 1970, can see parallels with the past.
"He reminds me of Jochen," the 80-year-old said earlier this year. "Seb will always stay grounded, no matter how big the success. That is what makes real champions. That was also Jochen's strength. Plus both are lousy losers."
Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates with crew members winning the world championship after finishing third in the Japanese F1 Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit, Oct 9, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
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Vettel focused on more wins despite big lead 2011-08-04 08:32
Vettel claims not to know his F1 championship lead 2011-07-08 16:14
Vettel wins European Grand Prix 2011-06-27 07:55
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