ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel took just 99 minutes to sweep away the talk of team orders and tainted titles and ensure the 2010 Formula One championship is remembered as a triumph for real racing.
After a season of record-equalling length, with 19 races from Australia to the Americas, the 23-year-old German won an unprecedented four-way last race showdown on Sunday to emerge on top for the first time this season and take his place as the sport’s youngest champion.
Starting with a 15 point deficit to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Vettel took the Red Bull by the horns and secured the title with a pole to chequered flag victory that owed nothing to pitwall meddling or veiled instructions.
In that moment, months of controversy melted away.
“We did it our way,” said team boss Christian Horner, who had refused to favour one of his drivers over the other and would have faced his own inquisition had Red Bull lost to Ferrari despite having the car of the season.
“We chose to back both guys,” he told reporters as mechanics and staff celebrated around him. “It could have cost us. We stuck with it, we believe in the principle of backing both equally and I think that’s been vindicated today.”
Had Alonso won and become the youngest triple champion, there would have been endless post-mortems about whether or not his title was truly deserved after the shenanigans of Hockenheim in July.
Former FIA president Max Mosley was not the only one suggesting that the title would be tainted if the Spaniard won by less than the seven points he had gained from Ferrari ordering Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa to let him win in Germany.
Massa’s loyal race engineer Rob Smedley may still win ‘moment of the year’ awards for saying with a heavy heart over the radio ‘So, Fernando is faster than you, Can you confirm you understood that message?”, but the sting has been drawn.
Had Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber won, there was a danger it too would have been as a result of Vettel doing ‘the right thing’ and moving over to give the Australian the points needed to finish ahead of Alonso.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone had said he hoped any switching of positions would at least be done with subtlety.
Ultimately, however, it just came down to pure racing. Ferrari messed up Alonso’s strategy, Webber was doomed after qualifying fifth and Vettel just went as fast as he could and left the rest to fate.
Alonso also won five races but one of them was thanks to Massa moving aside and three others came after the Italian team had laid down the pecking order.
Webber pushed Vettel all the way, even if he complained of feeling like a number two and being an ‘inconvenient’ challenger, and twice led the championship.
The Australian won four races and took five poles to Vettel’s 10 in a record-equalling season for Red Bull. Massa did not win a race or start on pole.
“Ultimately it has come down to what they have done on the track,” said Horner, whose team also won the constructors’ championship.
“Sebastian has had his ups and downs this year, he’s had a bit of bad luck, he’s never lost belief, always had total faith in the team and himself and he’s come out on top.”
Had Vettel enjoyed Webber’s reliability, he might have wrapped matters up earlier. An engine failure in Korea while leading costing him 25 points, a faulty spark plug in Bahrain denying him another win.
There was also a brake disk problem in Australia, and accidents of his own causing that had McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh labelling him ‘crash happy’.
The lead in the championship has changed hands repeatedly this year, with six different leaders, and even if the end result was not the closest championship ever in points terms -- only a draw could achieve that -- it was the most competitive and hard-fought.
Next year, with a record 20 races and a new tyre supplier in Pirelli, will be a fresh challenge for everyone and Red Bull will have to fight hard to defend both titles but the focus on Sunday was all about the last 12 months.
“It’s been a great championship and hats off to all our competitors,” said Horner.
“Fernando has been an awesome competitor, his fightback was immense. Ferrari got behind him. (McLaren’s) Lewis (Hamilton) and Jenson (Button) are both fantastic drivers.
“I think ultimately the winner is Formula One from this year and I’m just delighted its one of our guys that has picked up the big trophy.”