Sport : F1

Sebastian Vettel

7th March 2014, 11:57am

If the true mark of sporting greatness is defined by sustained success then Formula 1's reigning quadruple World Champion has reached that pantheon several times over. This truly is the Sebastian Vettel era.

Already established as the dominant force in F1 by his mid-20s, some of sport's most prestigious records continued to fall, or be equalled, by the German star in a 2013 season that saw him become only the third driver after Juan-Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher to win four successive Drivers' Championships - and the youngest by a considerable margin.

In truth, it should have come as no surprise as Vettel has been breaking records from almost the moment he stepped foot in an F1 car as a scruffy-haired teenager.

Vettel started as BMW Sauber's test driver from the 2006 Turkish GP onwards and lined up in his first race for the German-Swiss team at the 2007 United States GP as stand-in for the injured Robert Kubica. That weekend saw Vettel set his first F1 record when, aged 19, he became the youngest driver to score World Championship points, finishing in eighth place.

Vettel briefly returned to his test-driver role but soon signed for Toro Rosso and made his race debut for them at the 2007 Hungarian GP. He remained with Toro Rosso in 2008 and buoyed by Red Bull's decision to move him to their senior team, pulled off a remarkable win in the wet at the Italian GP.

Vettel backed up Red Bull's faith with an impressive run, bagging four race victories and mounting a late challenge for the drivers' title before losing out to Jenson Button.

2010 proved a different story for the German. Vettel demonstrated an impressive turn of pace from the start, but he also made mistakes and the title was still very much in the balance going into the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

However, Vettel claimed pole position, the race win and also became F1's youngest World Champion at Yas Marina after rivals Fernando Alonso and Webber both got stuck in the pack after making early pit stops. It was the only time he had led the standings all season.

The German really came into his own in 2011 by dominating the field in the highly-impressive RB7. The year started with back-to-back pole positions and victories - a run that quickly grew into a string of nine successive podium finishes, six of which were wins.

Vettel eventually claimed 11 wins, a record 15 poles and secured his second drivers' title with four races to spare. He also became the youngest double World Champion and the youngest back-to-back title winner.

He extended the run further in 2012 but it was far from a walkover, particularly during the first half of the season. Vettel was always there or thereabouts and won in Bahrain, but the advantage he and his team had enjoyed the previous year was gone. It was a different matter during the title run-in, though. Updates to the RB8 proved successful and Vettel fully exploited them, with four straight victories enabling him overhaul Alonso once again.

A similarly tight duel was expected in 2013, and after two victories apiece in the opening five rounds, another riveting season-long Vettel/Alonso battle appeared to be in store. How wrong people were. Boosted by the introduction of beefed-up Pirelli tyres, and a relentless Adrian Newey-led development march, Red Bull and their star driver went up another gear after the summer break and almost unfathomably Vettel won all of the season's final nine races.

The astonishing sequence equalled Alberto Ascari's previously impenetrable 60-year-old mark for successive F1 wins and also brought Vettel level with the mark of 13 wins in a single season set by Michael Schumacher, his childhood hero.

With a decade or more of his already superlative career surely to come, it's certainly not inconceivable that apprentice could eventually overhaul master.

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