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Vettel enters realm of F1 great

Sebastian Vettel sprays the champagne on the podium after the Chinese Grand Prix
Vettel celebrates after a second brilliant F1 win - and Red Bull's first

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

Sebastian Vettel's victory in the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday was perhaps the final confirmation of a very special talent indeed, one that lifts him from the status of good to great.

In his short F1 career, the German has been presented with two opportunities to win a grand prix - and he has taken them both.

The 21-year-old's victory in Shanghai was, if anything, even more impressive than that at Monza last year and was built upon his stunning performance in Saturday qualifying when he took pole position, despite being limited to only one run in each of the three sessions.

That advantage just kept paying him back on Sunday as it ensured his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber was always on the back foot in the race, despite showing very similar raw pace.

Vettel's weekend was all about control - over his circumstances and his team-mate.

Sebastien Vettel approaches the final corner

Highlights - Chinese Grand Prix

After completing his first run in Saturday's first part of qualifying, the team saw that grease was leaking from one of his driveshafts, just as it had done on both cars in practice earlier that morning.

The driveshaft gaiters had been replaced on both cars after that but here was a reappearance of the problem on Vettel's RB5 at a critical moment.

There was no time now to replace it and the only alternative was to limit his running and hope this would be enough to limit the damage.

He would get only one attempt in each session, they decided, rather than the usual two. They would hold him back until near the end of the sessions, when the track was at its grippiest, and he would have to simply perform, without error, without preparation.

It was a hugely demanding task in that it would have been extremely easy to either under or over-commit and find himself outside the top 10 altogether.

Sebastian Vettel poses with his trophy after the Chinese Grand Prix
Vettel is displaying the focus and concentration of a great F1 driver

He calmly took to the track with only a few minutes of the second qualifying session remaining and eclipsed Webber's time by 0.04 seconds to be the fastest of the session.

Into the top-10 run-off, he repeated the feat to secure pole in the dying seconds. He was fuelled a lap lighter than Webber but his 0.282secs advantage more than accounted for the difference - and, as in Q2, Webber had the luxury of two attempts.

In the rain of race day the benefits of pole accumulated beyond just the obvious one of giving him a clear view of the track, while Webber fought to stay in touch through a blinding spray.

That in turn allowed Vettel to be more precise with the use of his throttle and brakes - and this was very significant, for it enabled him to use less fuel.

Originally fuelled to run a lap shorter than Webber, he was able to save enough to get himself on to the same scheduled stop lap as his team-mate.

606: DEBATE
VettelRules

Had he not done this, Webber would have been able to use his extra low-fuel lap while the refuelled Vettel was heavy, to attempt to leapfrog past at the stops.

With them both now on the same scheduled stop lap, priority was given to Vettel as the leader and Webber was brought in a lap early.

This in turn snowballed the advantages further in Vettel's favour.

Stopping later, combined with the small margin he had pulled out over his team-mate before the stops, ensured Vettel cleared Jenson Button after the Brawns stopped under the safety car. Webber did not quite manage to get ahead of Jenson Button.

So when the safety car came in, Vettel was able to sprint clear, while Webber was delayed for seven laps trying to find a way past the Brawn.

By the time Webber succeeded in this, Vettel was 10 seconds up the road and the matter had been sealed once and for all. Webber then further delayed himself with a mistake that briefly allowed Jenson past again.

So it was the new boy and not the veteran who won the team their first grand prix and Webber was left with what are sure to be mixed feelings.

In his seven-year F1 career Webber has been significantly faster than every team-mate he has had, a list that includes names such as Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel feels 'phenomenal' after win

Vettel looks like being a far tougher nut to crack. The consensus going into the season was that if Webber gained the upper hand this time, then Vettel was obviously not as good as he had looked at Toro Rosso last year, flattered perhaps by a good chassis and a powerful engine.

If, on the other hand, Vettel outshone Webber, then it would be the end of Mark's claim as a top-line F1 driver, especially as he had yet to finish a race higher than third.

However, the standard of Vettel's performance in China was of a calibre very rarely seen.

The fact that Webber has been able to push him so hard, to demonstrate a raw pace that is on the same level of what is clearly an extraordinarily gifted driver, is more likely to enhance Webber's reputation than harm it.

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books



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see also
Mark Webber column
20 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
Buoyant Vettel eyes more F1 glory
19 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
Vettel seals first Red Bull win
19 Apr 09 |  Formula 1


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