Highlights - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (UK only)
By Martin Brundle
BBC F1 broadcaster
In the end, the best man won the title.
I said that to David Coulthard after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and he hesitated and responded that Fernando Alonso had navigated himself into the championship lead without having the fastest car.
That is a very valid point but in the end we agreed that Vettel was the best driver of the season.
His 10 pole positions, his absolute race pace and his five victories are testament to his speed and skill. In fact, without the engine failure in Korea when leading, Vettel would have won the last four races.
But for Alonso's sheer brilliance in out-qualifying and just beating Vettel to the flag in Singapore, indeed, it could easily have been six straight victories.
And that is why Vettel is the world champion.
The raw statistics support the fact that he was the fastest driver in the fastest car. He also has such boyish looks, never more apparent than when he was desperately trying to hold back his tears on the podium.
His father Norbert was on the BBC after the race holding the winner's trophy. They are a very down-to-earth family, and entirely approachable and pleasant.
Vettel 'didn't know' he was champion (UK only)
Vettel first drove a kart at three years old, won the Formula BMW championship, and finished second to Paul di Resta, currently Force India's reserve driver, in the 2006 European Formula Three championship.
Impressive performances in Friday practice in 2007 as a BMW's F1 test driver caught the attention of the other teams and he signed to race for Toro Rosso in 2008.
I remember an interview I did with Vettel at Monza that year, before he went on to score an outstanding victory. He was helpful and eager to express himself, which he always does so eloquently albeit using his motor-racing English.
At the end of the interview he individually thanked the producer, cameraman, and sound man. They were totally bowled over. Don't underestimate how far round the paddock and among the decision-makers that kind of news travels.
Vettel is the only driver in recent times who gets to regularly dine with Bernie Ecclestone in a social environment.
He is smart but, although I have not witnessed it myself, I am told he can be ruthless and demanding with the team behind closed doors when things have not gone well.
Instead of attacking, Ferrari were defending and they had not factored in traffic
Things fell beautifully into place for him in Abu Dhabi. Red Bull got the top 10 shoot-out in qualifying wrong by opting for one longer run rather than using two sets of tyres.
Vettel just made it work for pole position by 0.031 seconds over Lewis Hamilton but his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber was only fifth. This would leave both of them on the grid with fragile 'super-soft' compound tyres which had covered several more laps than their main rivals.
Off the start both McLarens made strong progress and Hamilton was moving up the inside of Vettel who had to brake very late into turn one.
He aggressively turned in and the back of the car was sliding which, by the smallest of margins, probably avoided contact with Hamilton's front wing. A very similar scenario in Silverstone punctured his tyre.
So Vettel led, but Alonso lost a place to Jenson Button, and Webber remained fifth. Michael Schumacher's first-lap spin and subsequent head-on collision with Vitantonio Liuzzi's Force India made me shiver at the potential consequences.
The inevitable safety car emerged and this gave Vettel's tyres a breather and he could condition them to an extent.
The safety car has been deployed 20 times this season and driver Bernd Maylander has led 88 laps. This puts him sixth in the leader table, only seven laps behind Hamilton who won three races.
Critically, Vitaly Petrov's Renault and Nico Rosberg's Mercedes would make their mandatory pit stop for the alternative harder compound tyre and rejoin nicely in the safety-car queue.
Furthermore, Petrov's team-mate Robert Kubica had also started on the harder tyre from 11th place, and the safety car had minimised the field spread he might normally suffer in the first laps as he settled in for a long first stint.
After the restart, Webber had a solid whack against the Turn 20 exit barriers and was then finding his rear tyres fading. He pitted and immediately showed good pace. Ferrari pitted Massa and then, crucially, Alonso to cover off Webber.
Instead of attacking, Ferrari were defending and they hadn't factored in traffic. With Vettel leading, Alonso would now need to pass Petrov and Rosberg to win the title and despite the two long straights, we know from the GP2 races and last year's Grand Prix that this is not a layout which generally promotes overtaking.
Vettel, Hamilton and Button stayed out and by a remarkable twist of fate, because of the reducing fuel loads and an evolving racetrack, the susper-soft tyres which the others had abandoned started to work better. This became a key factor.
Alonso said that this season at Ferrari has been his most enjoyable, which upset Renault with whom he won two world titles. Well, they certainly paid him back in the race
More luck for Vettel was when Hamilton pitted and came out just behind the squabble between Kubica and Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber as they had yet to stop. Vettel, on the other hand, emerged from the tricky underpass pit lane just in front of Kobayashi and pulled away.
Now McLaren were long-stinting Button to try to get enough margin for him to retain the lead after his much later stop, but his tyres just couldn't quite do it and he dropped back in behind Hamilton.
Vettel built such a comfortable margin that when Kubica finally stopped and released Hamilton he was 11 seconds behind and the world champion elect didn't have to stress his car too much to take victory.
Meanwhile, Alonso had spent the rest of the race behind the mightily impressive Petrov, who refused to be intimidated. And to add insult to injury Kubica emerged from the pit ahead too.
Alonso would manage only seventh, with Webber a frustrated and disappointed eighth.
Alonso frustrated as title slips away (UK only)
Alonso said that this season at Ferrari has been his most enjoyable, which upset Renault with whom he won two world titles.
Well, they certainly paid him back in the race and assisted Red Bull Renault by finishing both their cars in front of Alonso, thereby ensuring he did not get anywhere near Rosberg, who was in the fourth place Alonso needed to grab the title back from Vettel.
Even the Ferrari-engined Torro Rossos helped out their sister Red Bull team by letting Webber past. Eventually.
As Rosberg crossed the line in fourth place, Red Bull could finally celebrate a second championship in eight days and a most remarkable season came to a close.
At 23 years, four months and 11 days old Vettel becomes the youngest-ever world champion by 166 days over Lewis Hamilton.
The gods were definitely with the young German in Abu Dhabi and it was a fitting podium with the previous two champions in Hamilton and Button also up there.
Preparations and testing for 2011 start on Tuesday.