Records keep tumbling for championsip-bound Vettel
The records continued to tumble for Sebastian Vettel at the Singapore Grand Prix, even if the Red Bull driver left the city-state without the prize he wanted most: the 2011 Formula One world championship.
Not that the German will have to wait long. He needs just one point over the final five races, or have nearest rival Jenson Button to fail to win just one of them. Given that Vettel has not finished below fourth in any race this season, it seems certain he will become the sport's youngest two-title winner at the next race, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on Oct. 9.
Vettel put in another faultless performance in Singapore, taking his 11th pole position of the season and was never overtaken in the race en route to the checkered flag. Button's second position prevented Vettel taking the title under the Marina Bay lights.
The German is only the sixth driver in history to take 11 poles in a season. His victory also moved him out of a tie with Kimi Raikkonen on the all-time list and put him one behind another Finn, Mika Hakkinen, who is 12th on the career list.
The Red Bull driver claimed he was concentrating throughout the race on the immediate contest rather than calculating whether he had clinched the championship. Now, with only one point needed in five races, he won't need much mathematical prowess to figure it out.
''Crossing the line, I didn't know if it was enough or not,'' Vettel said. ''For the next race, I am smart enough to work it out myself.
''With the races we have had so far, it (winning the title) should not be a problem.''
Button made the race interesting, slicing into Vettel's lead to get within 3.7 seconds with three laps to go, but was frustrated by cars at the back of the pack in the closing stages and could get no closer.
Button's McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton - who finished fifth - had an unhappier time, getting slapped with a drive-through penalty after colliding with the Ferrari of Felipe Massa.
That incident prompted a confrontation in the media interview area after the race, when Massa tried to speak to Hamilton about the crash, but was ignored by the Briton. Hamilton also refused to speak to reporters.
It was the second time the pair have tangled this season - the first came in Monaco - and Sunday's collision brought to the surface some of the ill will that appears to have lingered since Hamilton beat Massa to the 2008 title by the slimmest of margins.
''He is not learning,'' Massa said. ''I called him two times, but he didn't listen to me, he (walked) past me. He didn't even look to me.''
It was the latest in a series of crashes involving Hamilton this year - including a collision with his teammate Button in Canada - which had many questioning his brilliant but aggressive approach.
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged Hamilton was frustrated at not being part of the title calculations this year but still defended his driver's style.
''Lewis has got to try and get better as a race driver, but he drove from very difficult circumstances, five times through the pit lane to score valuable points, and get a strong fifth place like that, it was a great drive,'' Whitmarsh said.
''Lewis is still a young guy, he is learning and he will learn from all of this. He will win races and I am sure he is going to win more championships.''
McLaren and Ferrari are now in planning mode for the 2012 season. Ferrari's Alonso finished a distant fourth in Singapore, having being passed twice in the race by Red Bull's Mark Webber, who finished third.
Mercedes too had a disappointing race, though it was to be expected that the long wheelbase car would struggle on the narrow confines of the Singapore street circuit.
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, crashed out of the race in spectacular style just before the midpoint, clipping Sergio Perez's rear tire and being launched into a track barrier.
Schumacher was reprimanded by the stewards over the move, though he claimed it was a simple racing incident, being caught out by Perez braking sooner than he had anticipated.
''Basically he just lifted off too early and I couldn't anticipate it,'' Schumacher said. ''I was about to try and go on the inside as he was a lot slower than myself. Unfortunately, we had a misunderstanding. It was a shame.''
Force India rookie Paul di Resta was sixth in his best finish. Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was seventh, ahead of Force India's Adrian Sutil. Massa recovered from the Hamilton crash - which caused a rear tire puncture - to finish ninth and Perez was 10th.