Vettel 'didn't know' he was champion
Sebastian Vettel said he never lost faith in his ability to win the Formula 1 world title despite coming into the final race third in the standings.
The Red Bull driver, 23, did not lead the 2010 championship at any point in the season but won Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to secure his maiden crown.
"We always kept believing in the team, and the car, and I kept believing in myself," the German told BBC Sport.
"It has been an incredible year, the car was phenomenal. I'm thrilled."
Vettel arrived at the Yas Marina Circuit 15 points behind then-leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and seven adrift of team-mate Mark Webber.
With 25 points for a win, the German therefore needed to take the chequered flag in first place and hope Alonso finished no higher than fifth.
After coming under pressure from McLaren's Lewis Hamilton at Turn One on the opening lap, Vettel produced a sublime performance to convert his pole position, while Alonso finished seventh and Webber eighth.
Vettel had won four of the previous 18 races but at no point had he found himself at the head of the championship.
Hamilton's victory at the Belgian Grand Prix on 29 August left Vettel slip 31 points off the top but he battled back with victories in Japan, Brazil and then finally Abu Dhabi.
"The only thing I could do was to try and win the race," said a beaming Vettel. "I'm speechless. The start was crucial, and it was very tight with Lewis, but after that it settled down.
"Coming back into the garage and seeing the guys and their faces, it was incredible. I said on the radio 'I love you' and I think I sounded like a little baby or girl. I had tears running down my face because I didn't know until I crossed the line.
"I thought something very special was going to happen because my race engineer Rocky [Guillaume Rocquelin] was very nervous and excited when he was giving me instructions in the last 10 laps.
"When I crossed the line he was very calm and I thought 'it's not enough'. But then he said 'it's looking good but we need to wait until the cars finish'. Then my heart stopped. I was about to ask where Alonso was in the race but I couldn't.
"I just was so shocked that Rocky said it was looking good. I waited and said 'take your time' but then he came on the radio and said 'world champion'. Unbelievable."
An emotional Vettel, who came through Red Bull's driver development programme and made his F1 debut in 2007, was overcome with emotion at the end of a campaign that had four men in title contention until the final day.
"I don't know how many times we've had a different leader in this championship," the 2010 world champion added. "I think we could all write books about races we should have finished in a higher position, we all had to go through ups and downs.
"It's been very tough, especially mentally, trying to ignore what people were saying and get things done."