Sebastian Vettel seals place among Formula 1 greats
Sebastian Vettel was chuffed when Sir Stirling Moss compared him favourably with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, whose feat of four consecutive World Championships the German emulated in India yesterday.
The Red Bull driver led home by 30 seconds from the chasing pack to register his sixth win in succession and 10th overall in 2013, moving him into an unassailable 115-point lead in the standings with three races to go.
Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber had been on target to make it a Red Bull one-two but a gearbox problem forced him out at two-thirds distance, paving the way for Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean of Lotus to complete the podium.
The new champion – at 26, the youngest to achieve four titles – and brilliant Englishman Moss, more famous for never winning the crown, are both consumed by their passion for the sport.
But where Moss was a fan favourite – he even left his telephone number in the book "because if fans were unhappy that I had taken the decision to drive foreign, they had a right to ask me why" – Vettel has succeeded his compatriot Michael Schumacher (the other member of their unique four-in-a-row clique) as the man they love to hate.
Schumacher belonged to that genre that believes their sport started the day they began. But Vettel has a deep interest in its history.
"I'm not an expert," he confesses, "but I love racing, so of course I know a little bit about it back in the day. But we also love our lives. Obviously safety is now a big thing and looking back it doesn't make me feel too comfortable!"
But the point is that he does look back. Isn't that enough to make him popular? Apparently not. So what about his penchant for answering questions in an interesting fashion? Others make token efforts. Not him. He'll consider the question, no matter how absurd. And he thinks deeply.
"When I was small I was dreaming about Formula One and honestly never thought that one day I would be able to test one of these cars," he reveals.
"The first time that I did, I thought, 'All right, that's for real men, not for me.' When I sit in the car now I know what to expect. But the first time I sat in the car, I was scared. It was much more than I expected. But then I got used to it and obviously wanted to do more."
So how did he become the bad guy? Stealing the Malaysia GP this year from team-mate Mark Webber was where an intelligent guy made a big misstep. First he was contrite. Later he tried to tough it out. Vettel should just have put his hand up and declared: "I'm a racer and I'm here to win. If you want somebody who's going to obey team orders, I'm not your man."
The ghost of "multi 21", the order he ignored, haunts him. Most likely it's why he gets booed.
"Sure, that's not a cool thing," he acknowledged "Everyone wants to be liked, but I don't do what I do to please people. But we have to put these things into perspective –not everyone is booing.
"In the end, the important thing is to be happy with yourself and do things the way that you believe is right. Honestly, I think this is a luxury problem to have."
An easy mistake is to assume that he's only winning because he has the best car. But if that's so, why hasn't Webber, no mean driver, won a race this year?
All of the big champions found their way into the best car; it's part of the art of racing.
Pundit Martin Brundle, himself a former F1 racer, is a big Vettel fan.
"Seb gets the qualifying lap in, he gets the start nailed and builds the gap, and he's brilliant at managing the tyres," he said.
Vettel and Fernando Alonso have a strained relationship, but he and Lewis Hamilton get on well.
"He's private and likes to keep a low profile," Hamilton observes.
"We often chill out and watch a few football games. He bought Roscoe (Hamilton's dog) a squeaky toy, which drove me crazy. We have a good laugh, and just like to chill and relax."
Vettel's success has a price.
"It's a question of finding a balance and having the right people on your side who are happy to give up some things, either your girlfriend or your family," said Vettel.
"People who understand that you are not around all the time and even when you are, maybe your mind is busy.
"It's difficult for me, but it's also very difficult for them."
As with Moss, part of him believes winning races can be better than winning championships.
"When you're on the grid, that's what you think. Obviously there will always be a race at the end that takes you to yes, you won it, or to no, you didn't.
"In the end I guess titles are what you really want. You have a dream, and when it's over and you failed it's like hitting a wall. And when you win you are so tense, so focused, and suddenly you feel so relieved. It's fantastic!
"The coolest thing is taking a fast curve at 250, 260kph. You are on the edge, you feel the G-force, the power and the grip.
"That gives you such satisfaction. When you win, the feeling is fantastic," he added.
Does he ever contemplate what he's won?
He said: "No. Whenever I'm asked if this was the best day of my life, I say I hope that the best is yet to come."