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Vettel secures fourth F1 crown
Sebastian Vettel became only the fourth man in history to win four Formula One drivers' titles by easing to a dominant victory in Sunday's Indian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver led home by 30 seconds from the chasing pack to register his sixth win in succession and 10th overall in 2013, moving him into an unassailable 115-point lead in the standings with three races to spare.
Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber had been on target to make it a Red Bull one-two but a gearbox problem forced him out at two-thirds distance, paving the way for Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean of Lotus to complete the podium.
Vettel, who entered this weekend's race with a 90-point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and needing only to finish no lower than fifth to retain his title, drove a controlled race to secure a result that was never in doubt after Alonso was involved in a first-lap collision that wrecked his faint hopes and saw him finish 11th.
Vettel joins Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as the sport's only four-time champions, and is only the third man - after Schumacher and Fangio - to claim four consecutively.
At the age of just 26, Vettel is six years younger than Schumacher was when he became a four-time champion in 2001, and must surely fancy his chances of eclipsing his fellow German's outright record of seven world titles in the years to come.
Vettel's win also wrapped up the constructors' title for Red Bull and continued his dominance of a race he has made his own since it made its debut on the F1 calendar.
After winning the inaugural race in 2011, Vettel topped every practice session and qualifying on his way to victory in 2012 before repeating exactly the same trick this time around.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner led the praise for Vettel's achievement over the team radio, telling his charge: "You've done it in style. You join the greats - well done."
Vettel also celebrated in style, turning doughnuts on the pit straight much to the delight of the main grandstand, before dropping to his knees and giving mock-praise to the all-conquering Red Bull RB9 that has seldom failed him during a dominant campaign.
Vettel has been booed when stepping on to podiums during the course of this season - presumed to be the legacy of his controversial decision to deny team orders on his way to victory in Malaysia this season - but in front of an enthused Indian crowd there was nothing but loud cheers to be heard as he mounted the top step.
Addressing the crowd after the podium ceremony, Vettel said: "It's been a phenomenal season. I think the spirit inside the team is so strong. It gives me so much pleasure to get in the car and go out for the guys and just try to give it all I have. The car was phenomenal today.
"It was phenomenal all season, to be honest, so I couldn't ask for more. I want to say a big thank you to the team, to all the people that were behind us.
"It was for sure not an easy season, even though people from the outside got the idea that we had it in our hands for quite a while, the last couple of races. I think it was a difficult one, all in all - very difficult for me, personally.
"To receive boos even though you haven't done anything wrong, but to overcome that and to give the right answer on the track and finally get that acceptance I think we're all looking for as racing drivers, it makes me very proud.
"To join people like Prost, Fangio and Michael is unbelievable."
Vettel's bid to make a little bit of history got off to a perfect start when Alonso hit trouble on the opening lap. Exiting the first turn the Ferrari driver clipped the back of Webber, causing damage which required a pit stop for a new nose section.
Alonso's misfortune was doubly fortunate for Vettel as it cancelled out the early pit stop the German was required to make due to the fragility of the soft Pirelli tyre that was brought to the race.
Pirelli said prior to the race that the ideal strategy for those starting on the soft tyre would be to pit as early as lap two, then put on the mediums until mid-distance, when another set of mediums should go on.
For those starting on the medium - Webber among them - the advice was reversed, again pitting at mid-distance and only taking on the soft tyre with two or three laps remaining.
Vettel started the 60-lap race on the soft tyre and duly peeled off at the end of lap two to take on new rubber.
But Alonso - who started the race on the medium tyre and was therefore hoping to run for much longer - was down in 20th, a long way from the win or second-placed finish he required to have any chance of keeping the title fight alive.
Alonso's afternoon was as good as over and he came on the radio to tell his engineers: ''I think I damaged something more in the car. The steering is heavy in the right-hand corners.''
The handling problems would see Alonso limp home in an eventual 11th place.
The contact between Alonso and Webber also affected Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button's McLaren, the Briton on the medium tyre forced into an unwanted early pit stop with a puncture as a result.
It was quickly becoming apparent that the race for victory was going to come down to a straight fight with the Red Bull drivers, with the added spice of the pair being on contrasting strategies.
The mid-point of the race was greeted with a rash of predicted pit stops, with Webber pulling off on lap 29 to take on the soft tyre, while Vettel took his second stop on lap 32, bolting on his second set of mediums that would carry him to the end of the race.
Webber's brief dalliance with the fragile soft tyre was over just one lap later as he took to the pits to take on the more durable medium, dropping him behind his team-mate.
Vettel looked to press home his advantage over his team-mate with some searing laps but any threat was eliminated on lap 40 when Webber - yet again hit by what bad luck there is to go around at Red Bull - was forced into retirement with an alternator problem.
That left Vettel with a clear run to the finish, crossing the line after 60 laps to secure his third straight win in India as well as the much bigger prize of another world title.
Rosberg came home 30 seconds back while Grosjean's run to third place was a fine achievement, coming as it did from 17th on the grid after his team made the wrong call on tyre strategy in qualifying.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa came home fourth ahead of McLaren's Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes. Lotus' Raikkonen was seventh, with Force India's Paul Di Resta ending his long points drought in eighth, ahead of his team-mate Adrian Sutil and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo in 10th.