Sebastian Vettel equalled the record of seven consecutive Formula One victories in one season after driving an immaculate race to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, ahead of Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg.
He was emotional afterwards on the podium as he dedicated the win to his parents, who have not attended a race for quite some time and again in the press conference when he contemplated the great names whose records he is catching and equalling.
It is the 37th win of his career, just four less than Ayrton Senna, and the 11th of this season.
The all time record for consecutive wins is Alberto Ascari with nine, but he did it over two seasons. Victory in the final two races of 2013 would also see the Red Bull driver match Michael Schumacher’s record for the most race wins in a single season – thirteen.
“Any kind of record involving Michael Schumacher takes my breath away. I’ve grown up watching him win in what looked liked each and every race when I was a child. And now that I am nearly doing the same can be quite humbling,” Vettel said.
“Most often from the outside people do not see the challenges involved. But one has to be prepared every time to go out there and nail it. If you ask me, the numbers are not that important, but to equal what he has achieved makes me very, very proud and I am old enough to realise this,”
Today Vettel was a class above the rest right from the first corner, as he took the race lead from team-mate Webber and simply drove off into the distance. He managed to square the circle of maintaining strong pace with preserving the tyres and the first stint put the win beyond doubt.
After running to lap fourteen on the soft tyre – longer than any other driver except Felipe Massa – he was able to exit the pits still in the lead and set about extending his advantage. He won by over half a minute.
By lap thirty his lead stood at thirty seconds and the need for excitement drew the attention away from the four-time World Champion.
Behind, Webber spent the first stint in third place after losing out to Vettel and Nico Rosberg at the start of the race. After dropping back and complaining of a KERS issue, Webber pitted on the ninth lap, two earlier than Rosberg, and set about pulling the Mercedes driver back.
With Rosberg hampered by a long-running Paul di Resta on the medium tyre, Webber reeled the two in and made the move past Rosberg with little difficulty. He had saved a little more KERS than his Mercedes rival. From here Webber maintained a four-second gap over Rosberg to make it the third Red Bull one-two of the season.
Rosberg followed his second place in India up with another podium here, collecting a much needed haul of points for Mercedes with the on-going battle for second place in the Constructors’ Championship. The sister car of Lewis Hamilton had a more difficult race as he struggled to pass slower cars and eventually came home in seventh place.
The Contructors’ Championship is now hotting up nicely between Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus. Lotus were hampered late last night when Kimi Raikkonen was disqualified from qualifying due to too much deflection in the car’s floor following the session and would always be on the back foot today.
Opting to start from last place rather than the pit-lane, Raikkonen made contact with Giedo van der Garde at the first corner and was out of the race.
That left Romain Grosjean as the hope for Lotus and the Frenchman put in another solid drive. A good start took him past Lewis Hamilton and into fourth place, a position which he retained for the duration of the Grand Prix. Grosjean threatened Rosberg for the final podium place in the closing laps but could not make it four consecutive podiums.
Fernando Alonso, however, was able to make it ground in the closing laps as he switched to a two-stop strategy and completed the race on softs. He and Massa had hoped to complete the race on just one stop but switched late on prevent their tyres falling off the cliff.
Having started from tenth, Alonso made his way to fifth place, setting the fastest lap in the process, and keeping his team within touching distance of Mercedes. He had a controversial incident as he exited the pits for the second time, where he went off the track to pass Vergne and Massa. He argued successfully with the stewards that Vergne gave him no room and there was no penalty for the Spaniard.
Alonso went to hospital for precautionary checks following the race, after registering a 25G impact when he hit a kerb at Yas Marina – but doctors gave him the all-clear.
Mercedes sit on 334 points, whilst Ferrari are on 323 and Lotus take 297 points to Austin.
Paul Di Resta kept Hamilton at bay in the closing laps to complete the race on one-stop and impress any potential employers for 2014.
The top ten was completed by Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil. Massa ran the furthest of anyone on the soft tyre and like Alonso had hoped for a single stop. However a drop in times in the closing stages necessitated a second tyre change, dropping the Brazilian to eighth.
Perez had an eventful race that saw him in the middle of many battles. He made a good move on Jean-Eric Vergne before passing Sutil late in the race for ninth place.
Kimi Raikkonen left early after crashing in the opening corner. A row over his salary payments with Lotus seems to have been resolved after he threatened them with an injunction. And we understand he will take part in the final two races.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Yas Marina, Race, 55 Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1h38m06.106s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull +30.8s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +33.6s
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus +34.8s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +1m07.1s
6. Paul di Resta Force India +1m18.1s
7. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +1m19.2s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari +1m22.8s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren +1m31.1s
10. Adrian Sutil Force India +1m33.2s
11. Pastor Maldonado Williams +1m35.9s
12. Jenson Button McLaren +1m43.6s
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1m44.1s
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber +1 lap
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams +1 lap
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +1 lap
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +1 lap
18. Giedo van der Garde Caterham +1 lap
19. Charles Pic Caterham +1 lap
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia +2 laps
21. Max Chilton Marussia +2 laps