GREATER NOIDA, India (Reuters) - Germany’s Sebastian Vettel roared into the record books as Formula One’s youngest four-times world champion after winning the Indian Grand Prix for the third year in a row on Sunday.
The 26-year-old’s Red Bull team also took the constructors’ world championship for the fourth successive year.
“You’ve done it in style,” Red Bull principal Christian Horner shouted over the team radio as Vettel took the chequered flag with a massive 29.8-second lead over compatriot Nico Rosberg for Mercedes.
“Brilliant drive. You join the greats, mate. You’re up there.”
The victory from pole position was Vettel’s sixth in a row and completed a hat-trick in India where no other driver has won since the race, which may be making its final appearance on the calendar, made its debut in 2011.
Vettel became the fourth quadruple champion and only the third driver to land four titles in a row after Germany’s seven-times winner Michael Schumacher and the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio.
He is also the only one to have won his first four consecutively.
The German celebrated by adding some tire smoke to the haze of pollution hanging over the Buddh International circuit, slowing the car on the pit straight and then spinning it around with some ‘donuts’ for the fans.
Vettel got out, standing up on the car before crouching to kiss the front in a gesture of worship. Clambering up the wire fence, he threw his gloves into the grandstand before scaling the pitwall to embrace Horner and designer Adrian Newey.
“How do I feel? I‘m overwhelmed. One of the best days of my life so far,” he said in a podium interview alongside Rosberg and third-placed Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who had roared through from 17th on the grid for Lotus and ran as high as second.
“I am speechless and I was empty when I crossed the line. I spent ages thinking what to say, there is so much you want to say at a time like that.”
Vettel compensated later, talking at length to reporters while swigging happily from his champagne bottle as team members put on the commemorative T-shirts that have been ready for some time.
“It has not been an easy season. From the outside people will think it was easy but it wasn‘t. It has been hard for me in particular to be booed when I have not done anything wrong,” he said.
The boos that marked some of his earlier wins were absent on Sunday, with the German’s title a foregone conclusion and the crowd happy to witness history in the making.
Vettel had led Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the only man who could put his celebrations on hold, by 90 points before the start with three races remaining - worth a maximum 75 - after India. He now has 322 to Alonso’s 207.
Red Bull have 470 points in the constructors’ with Mercedes leapfrogging Ferrari into second place with 313.
Alonso needed to finish in the top two but his hopes evaporated at the start when he tagged the rear of Mark Webber’s Red Bull and then also made contact with Jenson Button’s McLaren.
The Spaniard, who had to pit for a new front wing before rejoining the race in 20th place with his strategy in tatters, finished out of the points in 11th spot.
“This is a sport, someone is better than us,” he told reporters. “This year it was Sebastian and Red Bull. Next year we will try to do better.”
Webber, who led for much of the early part of the race after starting on the longer-lasting medium tire in a different strategy to Vettel, retired on lap 40 with an alternator problem.
“I still have a smile on my face, there’s nothing more I could do today,” said the Australian, whose team had some nervous moments after his retirement in case the same happened to Vettel.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa finished fourth, after leading for six laps when Vettel pitted at the end of lap two to switch from soft tires to mediums, with Mexican Sergio Perez fifth for McLaren in his best result of the year.
Massa became the first driver other than Vettel, who was up to third place again by lap 13 despite his early stop and regained the lead at the halfway mark when Webber pitted, to lead a lap in India.
Tire choices were crucial, with Pirelli advising that the softs were good for 15 laps at most and the mediums 35 although Grosjean did 46 laps on the latter.
Lewis Hamilton was sixth for Mercedes with Kimi Raikkonen, who wrestled with overheating brakes for much of the race and was overtaken by Grosjean, seventh for Lotus. The Force Indias of Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil were eighth and ninth.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel’s team mate next year, handed Toro Rosso the final point.
Editing by John Mehaffey