PARIS, December 16 – Baby-faced Sebastian Vettel demonstrated the ruthless determination of a pit-lane veteran to sweep away rivals as well as bitter, mid-season infighting to become Formula One's youngest world champion.The 23-year-old overcame a 25-point deficit in the last two races, winning a nail-biting finale at Abu Dhabi to leave Fernando Alonso, who had led the championship going into the final event, devastated.
"Being world champion is a goal that I have pursued since I was a kid," said Vettel. "But this is not the end, things will continue."
It was a season of dramatic twists and turns for Vettel, who endured spectacular fall-outs with Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.
The grizzled Australian led the championship with just two races to go only to see his advantage devoured by both Vettel and Alonso.
Though he cursed his luck, many saw Alonso’s defeat as come-uppance after he was the beneficiary of team orders at the German Grand Prix.
Alonso enjoyed a flying start to the season at Bahrain, making the most of pole-sitter Vettel’s mechanical troubles to claim victory in a race that also witnessed the presence of three new teams and one very familiar face.
Virgin, Lotus and Hispania struggled all year, while seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, now 41, made a controversial return with Mercedes.
The great German was to spend the rest of the campaign being routinely upstaged by faster, nimbler, younger team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Race two in Australia saw defending champion Jenson Button, now a McLaren team-mate of compatriot Lewis Hamilton, take the chequered flag with Vettel’s hopes shattered by brake problems.
Vettel and Webber drove to a one-two triumph in Malaysia before Button went 10 points clear at the top of the standings with victory in Shanghai.
Webber clinched back-to-back wins in Spain and Monaco, the start of a 12-race span where the Australian and Hamilton were to share the championship lead.
The Australian’s relationship with Vettel reached breaking point in Istanbul, where the German swung across pole-sitter Webber only to exit the race.
Hamilton and Button took a McLaren one-two and repeated the achievement in Canada.
On the streets of Valencia, Vettel reasserted his challenge with victory while Webber walked away relatively unscathed after a spectacular crash that saw his car somersault over Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus.
At Silverstone, Webber cruised to victory and then accused his team of favouritism after a new wing was removed from his Red Bull and fitted to Vettel’s.
There was more controversy when Alonso’s win at the German Grand Prix was achieved after Ferrari team-mate Massa was told to move over 18 laps from the end.
Webber took over as championship leader after an incident-filled Hungarian Grand Prix.
He finished nearly 18 seconds ahead of Alonso with Vettel, hampered by a drive-through penalty for infringing the safety car rules, coming home a frustrated third.
Hamilton regained the championship lead after claiming victory in Belgium, his first at the famed Spa track.
But back roared Webber, who regained the lead with a sixth place behind winner Alonso at Monza, where Vettel was fourth.
Alonso won under the Singapore lights, just 0.2sec ahead of Vettel, while Webber’s third place kept him on top with an 11-point lead.
Vettel resuscitated his challenge with a second consecutive victory at Suzuka, less than a second ahead of Webber with Alonso in third.
The inaugural South Korean Grand Prix ended in near-darkness, with Alonso taking a third win in four races to inherit the championship lead with a 11-point lead over Webber, who finished last.
Vettel and Webber clinch a double for Red Bull at Sao Paolo with Alonso finishing third to set up a tantalising finale in Abu Dhabi, where Vettel secured pole.
Webber started from fifth before gradually slipping down the standings.
Alonso only had to finish among the top four to prevent Vettel from taking the title but could only finish in seventh. Webber trailed home in eighth.
Vettel was world champion by just four points.