Sebastian Vettel coasted to a fourth consecutive title this year, but whether the record-breaking German makes it five next year could depend on how he and Red Bull get to grips with Formula One’s new technical landscape.
In what has been described as the biggest revolution the sport has ever experienced, a raft of changes are set to shake up the pit lane and inject some much needed unpredictability to the outcome of races.
When Vettel and company line up for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March their cars will have undergone a major facelift, sporting a new chassis, a lower nose and a radical new engine.
Gone is the 2.4 liter V6 engine used since 2006, with in its place a far more fuel efficient 1.6 liter V6 turbo “power-train,” and in a controversial move slammed as “absurd” by Vettel, double points are to be awarded for the final race of the season.
Not that this measure would have had any bearing on the outcome of this year’s world championship, with the peerless Vettel lifting the crown with a massive 155 points to spare over Fernando Alonso.
A season that had promised so much at the outset when former champion Kimi Raikkonen picked up the opener in Melbourne, Australia, reverted to type as early as the second race.
Vettel, incensing teammate Mark Webber, turned a blind eye to team orders to win in Malaysia and take what was to turn out to be permanent control of the championship lead.
Fernando Alonso, with wins in China and Spain, Nico Rosberg (Monaco and Silverstone, Britain) and Lewis Hamilton (Hungary) played cameo roles in a season where Vettel’s domination scaled new heights.
By the time the caravan pitched up at Spa-Francorchamps after the summer recess Vettel, with four wins, held a 38-point cushion over Alonso, but hopes the chasing pack may have entertained of catching Vettel were dashed in Belgium as the German and Red Bull eased to another victory.
Any lingering suspense the season may have had disappeared as Vettel annexed all the remaining races, picking up boos from fans in the process.
The 26-year-old German roared into the history books with three races to go in India as the youngest four-time world champion and only the fourth driver to win four titles on the trot.
His ninth consecutive win in the season-closer in Brazil matched Italian Alberto Ascari’s historic record of nine straight wins stretched across two seasons from 1952 to 1953 and also equaled at 13 fellow German Michael Schumacher’s total for one season, set with Ferrari in 2004.
Despite Vettel’s position of power, he insists his desire to compete is undimmed.
“It is not as if I’m getting bored, I think I still have a lot to do,” Vettel said after Austin. “One day people might look back, and talk about our time and what we have done as a team.”
Webber, who takes his leave of Formula One with nine wins from 215 races to forge a fresh career with Porsche in sports car racing, believes his former teammate and Red Bull are once again the men to beat next year.
“They’ll be favorites for starting the season very strongly, which is probably not what people at home want to hear,” the Australian told the BBC.
Red Bull chief technical officer Adrian Newey was more cautious, suggesting the new changes meant “a fresh roll of the dice for everybody.”
Father-to-be Vettel was vocal in his opposition to the doubling of points for the closing race.
“This is absurd and punishes those who have worked hard for a whole season. I value the old traditions in Formula One and I don’t understand this new rule,” he said.
The traditional round of drivers’ musical chairs includes Torro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo replacing his Aussie counterpart Webber at Red Bull; Kimi Raikkonen leaving Lotus to take over Williams-bound Felipe Massa’s drive alongside Fernando Alonso at Ferrari; Danish novice Kevin Magnussen joining McLaren to replace Sergio Perez as Jenson Button’s teammate; and Adrian Sutil joining Sauber after Nico Hulkenberg’s return to Force India.
Off the track, Jean Todt was elected unopposed for a second term as president of governing body the FIA, while Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone faced bribery charges in court.
Meanwhile, Formula One breaks new ground next year with the inaugural Russian Grand Prix at Winter Olympic venue Sochi.