SAO PAULO (AP) - What was good a year ago became even better in 2011 as Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull outclassed the competition to win their second consecutive title and increase their dominance in Formula One.
With a car labeled “light years” ahead of the others, Vettel easily won the drivers’ championship and Red Bull the constructors’ title in a season that was also marked by exciting racing brought on by rule changes that succeeded in encouraging passing.
By the time the season ended at the Brazilian Grand Prix last Sunday, Vettel had proved he has the potential to become one of the great drivers in F1 history and Red Bull had showed its superiority over the rest of the field was even greater than last year.
Red Bull had the fastest car by far in 2010, but mechanical failures and driver mistakes kept the championship close until the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi.
“Pretty incredible,” Vettel said. “Going into the season we thought we (had) a competitive car, but it has been phenomenal. The team has been faultless most of the time, so they’ve raised their level massively compared to the last two years.”
Vettel never started lower than third on the grid and was on the front row in all but one race. He won five of the first six races and finished on the podium in every grand prix but two.
“This will be a year that we will look back to and always be very proud of,” Vettel said.
His competitors know they never stood much of a chance.
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion, won three races but finished only fifth in the drivers’ standings. His McLaren teammate, Jenson Button, also won three times in 2011, but was more consistent and ended second in the standings after a solid third-place run in Brazil on Sunday.
McLaren appeared to close the gap to Red Bull toward the end of the season, but it still wasn’t enough. Vettel teammate Mark Webber won the Brazilian GP after the German struggled with a gearbox problem, earning his only victory of the year.
“We were bombproof in many areas and that made it hard for the opposition,” Webber said. “I think I can have a stronger season than this year. Clearly I started off poorly for lots of different reasons. You’ve got to look at all different areas to get at the highest level. The bar’s high.”
Red Bull’s dominance started in the later part of the 2009 season and it has been the team to beat ever since.
“If you look at the last 40 races we have won 23 of them,” team principal Christian Horner said. “We have had 25 podiums this year alone, 17 poles. It has been a remarkable year, and with continuity, with stability, our target is to try and maintain the level of performance and success that we have worked so hard to achieve over the last few years.”
Although Vettel dominated the season and clinched the title at the Japanese GP in October, with four races to spare, there was plenty of excitement on the track throughout the year, with a significant increase in passing in nearly all races.
A study by Mercedes released ahead of the Brazilian GP showed that overtaking maneuvers reached record levels in F1, with more than 800 taking place by the race in Abu Dhabi, the second-to-last of the season.
Nearly half of those passes came thanks to the new drag reduction system (DRS), which allowed drivers to adjust their rear wings from inside the car in certain occasions to increase their speed. There was also more excitement because of the return of the hybrid KERS power-boost system and the introduction of Pirelli tires, which produced more pit stops and brought back in-race strategy.
Most drivers and fans loved the results, and FIA has already hinted the new rules will all be back in 2012, although there might be a few adjustments.
Also back in 2012 with be 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who will drive for Renault after a two-year break from the series. Renault teammate Robert Kubica will likely miss at least the start of the season, however, as he continues to recover from life-threatening injuries sustained in a rally earlier in the year.
The return of veteran Brazilian Rubens Barrichello also is uncertain. He drove for Williams this year, but has yet to reach a deal to drive in what would be his 20th season in F1. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher will definitely be back for his third year with Mercedes following a three-year retirement.
They will all be going after Red Bull and Vettel, who has been adding up records year after year and is on pace to become one of the greatest ever in F1. He was the youngest points scorer in 2007, and a year later also became the youngest series’ winner. He was also the youngest ever driver to win his first title, at 23, and the youngest to win his second trophy, at 24.
The German said his secret for success with Red Bull is simple.
“We seem to enjoy what we do. It’s nice every weekend to come into the garage, see the boys with a smile on their faces, being happy with what they do,” he said. “I think one thing about us: you walk into the garage, I think even as a guest, and you get that feeling that we really love what we do.
“We are passionate and it doesn’t matter if we have to work until late or work harder than others. We are ready to take that because we know how sweet it can taste at the end of the race, at the end of a grand prix or the end of the season.”
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By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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