Rivals pay tribute to Sebastian Vettel after record-breaking fourth World Championship
German becomes the youngest quadruple title winner in history
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 28/10/13 9:29am
The youngest quadruple tittle winner in history, Vettel clinched his latest success with victory in Sunday's Indian Grand Prix, beating the field to cross the line half a minute clear of his nearest challenger. Not only is Vettel re-writing the record books, he is transforming the dimensions of a sport which used to be measured in fractions of seconds.
No other driver has won a F1 title since the turn of the decade and the last pre-Vettel World Champion is adamant the 26-year-old must now be considered one of the sport's all-time greats following his emulation of Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio.
"Seb is a great driver," enthused Jenson Button, who won the 2009 title for Brawn ahead of Vettel. "Anyone who wins four world titles has done a fantastic job and will be remembered in the sport as one of the greats."
But is he the best? According to the driver still considered by the majority of paddock observers to be the pre-eminent pilot on the grid, Vettel has proved himself to be the sport's number one this year.
"Sebastian is ahead because he does the best job," accepted a gallant Fernando Alonso. "The best one wins."
Even Lewis Hamilton, who has repeatedly hailed Alonso as F1's first among equals, was moved to acknowledge on Sunday: "He's now in the legendary books, he already was. I'm really happy for him.
"To do it at such a young age - I think he's 26 - is pretty phenomenal. He's broken quite a few records these past few years. I'll try and catch him at some stage, though he's probably going to be too busy from now on."
Yet while Vettel's detractors are dwindling in number, the German's claim for greatness still lacks the credibility of beating an a-class team-mate in identical machinery. Mark Webber is far from second-rate, but even the Australian's admirers would likely concede that Webber lacks the skill and pace of the likes of Alonso, Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen - overlooked in favour of the up-and-coming Daniel Ricciardo to be Vettel's next team-mate following Webber's retirement.
But Red Bull boss Christian Horner is certain that his protégé would prevail regardless of who was in the other car.
"I would put him against anyone in these cars and I believe he'd come out on top," Horner told The Sunday Times. "He drives the car like a motorcross rider or a speedsway rider on corner entry. He is totally relaxed to have the car moving around beneath him as he turns in, and not many drivers are.
"He's driving to a fantastically high level all the time. It's really on an elevated plane."
But what of the car itself? Perhaps most pertinently as far as his critics are concerned, Vettel he has won his championships in a Red Bull car considered to be a class apart from the rest, with his success frequently credited to the genius of Red Bull's technical Adrian Newey rather than his own skill.
"Sebastian has so much more grip than us," observed Hamilton at the start of the weekend. "He's driving a different car to us."
Whether that entirely accounts for him driving away with this year's World Championship in such empathic fashion is a debate that will keep on raging.