On This Day in 2010: Sebastian Vettel secures first F1 title

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Sebastian Vettel secured the Formula One drivers’ championship after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of a dramatic season, on this day in 2010.

At 23, the Red Bull driver became the youngest world champion in Formula One history and went on to win the title for the next three seasons.

It was an unlikely maiden triumph. The German had been 31 points adrift with six races to go and went into the final race of the season with a 15-point deficit to Fernando Alonso and seven points behind Mark Webber.

Formula One – 2014 Testing – Day One – Circuito de Jerez
Sebastian Vettel won the Formula One drivers’ championship four times in a row with Red Bull (Martin Rickett/PA)

Alonso needed only to take advantage of his grid position to secure a third title in the first-ever showdown involving four drivers yet Vettel won it from pole, with Alonso trailing behind in seventh place.

Following John Surtees in the 1964 season and James Hunt in 1976, this was the third time in Formula One history that the title winner had not topped the championship table until after the last race.

Ten pole positions and five race wins over the course of the season clinched the title for Vettel after a season of fluctuating fortunes for all the contenders.

There had been eight changes of leader in the standings over the course of 18 races, none of them involving the young Red Bull pilot.

Alpine F1 – A521 Launch
Fernando Alonso let slip his commanding advantage in the final race of the 2020 season (PA Media/handout)

In the 19th race in Abu Dhabi, Vettel leapfrogged the field to make a definitive claim to the top step of the championship podium and become the second German driver to do so in the 60 years of the series, emulating his childhood hero Michael Schumacher.

Vettel shared the podium with the two previous holders, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who finished second and third respectively.

Vettel, who had finished second in the world drivers’ championship standings in his first season in 2009, followed his surprise triumph by dominating the programme in 2011, clinching his second drivers’ championship two months before the end of the season with 11 wins from 19 races.

Lewis Hamilton File Photo
Lewis Hamilton finished second behind Sebastian Vettel in the deciding final race in 2010 (David Davies?PA)

Although less commanding in 2012, he nevertheless won five races to once more retain his title and in 2013 he again ran roughshod over the F1 field, winning 10 of the first 16 series races to clinch his fourth consecutive title with a month remaining in the season.

That year he also became the first driver in F1 history to win eight consecutive races in a season, a record he extended to nine straight wins by the end of the year.

Vettel’s streak of drivers’ championships ended with a fifth-place finish in 2014. Late in that season he announced that he was leaving the Red Bull team and joining Ferrari but he failed to reproduce his heroics with his new team and in 2021 he signed with Aston Martin.

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