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Champion with a steely will and delicate hands

- Like idol Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel’s drive to win is insatiable
Sebastian Vettel with his Fastest Lap Award, at Interlagos, on Sunday

Sao Paulo: Sebastian Vettel could have popped in to ask permission from Lance Armstrong for the title of any forthcoming autobiography if the disgraced cyclist had not been barred from turning up at the United States Grand Prix.

Armstrong, a local in Austin, the venue for the US Grand Prix last weekend, called his book, It’s Not About the Bike. Vettel can call his It’s Not About the Car.

If ever a driver has been forced to overcome the perception that he is a three-time world champion only because of the brilliance of a man with a 2B pencil, it is Vettel.

But Ayrton Senna had his supreme McLaren, Michael Schumacher a Ferrari and Jim Clark a Lotus; Vettel has the RB8, a machine of wondrous complexity from the extraordinary mind of Adrian Newey, the most successful designer in the history of Formula One.

The two are inevitably intertwined. Newey has put together championship-winning cars at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull, constructors’ champions for the third successive time, and the RB8 is the envy of the paddock — just ask Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso.

But this extraordinary season has not just been about the car, but also a youngster with a steely will and delicate hands, who has shrugged off the faint praise and got on with the job.

The 2012 World Championship started with seven winners in seven races; it has ended with Vettel winning four of the past seven Grands Prix with two more podium finishes.

That was what helped to propel Vettel to his third world title at the age of 25. Three consecutive championships in a career that spans only five complete seasons and 101 Grands Prix; these are statistics that strike fear not just into his rivals, but the race promoters who have revelled in a season of unknowns and dread the domination of a single driver. Yet here we are with a driver who has won 20 of the past 58 grands prix. If that is not domination what is?

Vettel spoke warmly this weekend about the driver who was his inspiration and mentor, Michael Schumacher, who had handed out the prizes at his Kerpen kart track, where Vettel trained week in, week out. Christian Horner, the Red Bull Team Principal, says Vettel is a keen student of the F1 record book and he learnt at the feet of the master how to rack up the statistics.

The boy from Heppenheim, the youngest pole position winner, race winner, world champion and two-time world champion, will now have Schumacher’s record of seven world titles in his sights and he has years in which to do it.

An aside to consider: Britain has produced more world champions than any other nation, ten in total, who have won between them 14 titles. Germany has had just two champions, Schumacher and now Vettel, yet they have won ten championships.

If Vettel keeps going on at this rate, Germany will overtake Britain’s haul and then some, not even having to go to penalties.

Like Schumacher, Vettel’s drive to win is straight out of the same mould as his compatriot — he is insatiable.

Yet Vettel shares another unenviable thread with his illustrious countryman. Many are loath to acclaim Schumacher as the world’s best, despite the 91 victories — 50 more than Ayrton Senna, the man most would choose.

Vettel faces the same caveat every time he takes pole position and wins by a country mile. And so the critics line up to recite their mantra that it is only the car and that Vettel cannot overtake and muscle his way around a racetrack. Oh yeah?

This is Niki Lauda, a three-time world champion, on Vettel: “They told me I couldn’t overtake. I used to say, “OK, you are right. I couldn’t overtake my way to three titles.’ Listen, you win that many races, you get that many poles, you are a great driver. No question.”