It all came good for Sebastian Vettel just when it all seemed to be going wrong on Sunday in a Brazilian Grand Prix that turned the Red Bull driver into Formula One’s youngest triple world champion.
In the immediate aftermath of his title triumph, the 25-year-old German alluded to “dirty tricks” against him and his team earlier in the season, but he had far more immediate concerns at Interlagos.
“I think everything that could go wrong, went wrong,” he said of a race that saw him start in fourth place, go to the back of the field after a fourth-corner collision that left him facing the wrong direction, and finish sixth.
As the champion turned around and fought back, Ferrari title rival Fernando Alonso moved into a position that would have handed him a third title if the race had ended that way.
The floor of the Red Bull was damaged and Vettel was unable to communicate through the car-to-team radio, a problem that led to others on a wet and chaotic afternoon.
“We did the pit stop probably at the wrong time — I went on another set of drys and a lap later it started to rain — I came in for inters and the inters weren’t ready because we had no radio communication, they couldn’t hear me,” Vettel said.
“It was a very tough race, but we were present all the time, we remained ourselves throughout the whole year, even though people did some things that we would never consider to do,” he said. “A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks, but we did not get distracted by that and kept going our way, and all the guys gave a big push right to the end.”
It was not immediately clear what he was referring to.
Some saw it as a reference to destabilizing rumors earlier in the year that Vettel had an agreement to move to Ferrari, others to Ferrari tactics favoring Alonso or questions about the legality of the Red Bull.
“People tried everything, inside the lines and outside the lines, to beat us and the amount of questions we had to deal with, stuff we had to deal with throughout the season, didn’t make our life easier,” Vettel said.
Only two other champions have ever won three titles in a row — late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, now 43 and a good friend of his younger compatriot.
Schumacher did Vettel one last favor in the closing laps when he did not attempt to prevent the champion taking sixth place from him.
“I said thanks for not defending too hard,” Vettel said. “He said: ‘What’s the point? You were much quicker, you were going to pass me anyway.’”
Vettel, who admitted to pre-race nerves, also became only the ninth triple champion and he was keenly aware of what he had achieved.
“To get told was unbelievable. Unfortunately, the guys couldn’t hear my answer because the radio was broken,” he grinned. “We are in Sao Paulo, the place where [triple champion] Ayrton Senna was born and came from, and where he is buried. To come here and win the championship for the third time ... I don’t know what to say.”
Vettel said team principal Christian Horner had come on the radio after the finish to list all the triple champions who had gone before him.
“He started with Michael, the obvious choice and easy to remember, Senna, [Niki] Lauda, [Nelson] Piquet ... I think he mentioned all of them, except [Alain] Prost. So I told him: ‘You forgot Prost.’”
The words went unheard, the radio faulty and filled with the sound of shouting from the pit wall.