Sebastian Vettel steals the starlight by winning the championship as Button secures victory in Japan.
With a driver as good as Sebastian Vettel, a car as fast and reliable as the Red Bull, and a professional team running it, it was inevitable that the 2011 world title would be wrapped up this week at Suzuka, and so it proved. Jenson Button may have claimed victory in Japan and with it his third win of the season, but with a carefully driven podium finish, the single point required by Vettel to win back-to-back titles was secured in relatively comfortable conditions.
As the youngest double world champion in Formula 1 history, the thrill of this feat was palpable as the emotion exhumed was perhaps less so than at last year's triumph in Abu Dhabi. From the outset of this year's championship, the breathtaking pace of the Red Bull and the German's awesome command of it have been ever-apparent: his dominance of the season evidenced by 12 poles and nine out of 15 wins. His determinition to win today was clear from the outset as Vettel squeezed Button onto the grass as the Brit attempted to pass him off the line.
Although the move seemed brutal, a penalty was not deemed appropriate; had it been, a fiercer contest could have been fought today. The captivating Japanese Grand Prix saw Button gradually make ground on Vettel and after the second round of pit stops, he emerged on track ahead of the Red Bull. Unfortunately for him, the safety car was introduced slowing down the pack as debris was cleared, but with a series of fastest laps and a consistent drive his lead was maintained until the flag, albeit with a brief drop to third after a final pit stop.
Alonso was sandwiched between the McLaren and Red Bull, and as the German pushed the Spaniard, Alonso upped the pace and came to within 1.2 seconds of Button with a couple of laps remaining. A classy finish by the Brit resulted in a new fastest lap of the race followed by the checkered flag, giving momentum to his strong finish to the season and putting him second in the driver's championship. But the afternoon belonged to Vettel. Although he would've loved to top the podium, he settled for discretion and carefully circuited behind Alonso and kept team-mate Webber firmly in his rear view mirror to clinch third and with it the title.
Aged 24 years and 98 days, the mantel of youngest back-to-back winner passes to Vettel from Alonso, who set the benchmark in 2006. This can now be added to his string of milestones that include youngest pole, podium and race winner as part of the Toro Rosso team at Monza; not to mention the youngest world champion last year. After six wins and two seconds in the first eight races of his incredible early run, it seemed inconceivable the title wouldn't be his. Yet with relatively poor showings in Britain, Germany and Hungry, a competitive finish to the season was on the cards.
True to form however, Vettel silenced all doubters with consecutive victories in Belgium, Italy and another later in Singapore, before getting the job done in Japan. With Alonso still considered the best driver in the world, as Hamilton's stock has fallen due to a shaky season Vettel must now be considered next in line to the crown and a similar showing next season would surely see him mentioned in the same breath as Senna, Lauda and Shumacher.