NASCAR

Vettel hears the sweet sounds of another F1 title

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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP)

Sebastian Vettel knows there's work coming up. But that doesn't mean the youngest racer to win two straight Formula One titles can't belt out a few numbers at a karaoke bar.

Vettel's next race is less than a week away, and his Red Bull team packed up and headed off for South Korea. That left Vettel with a day off Monday following a night out and doing what any 24-year-old on the top of his game might do - singing with his teammates at an Irish bar .

''We had a little bit of a celebration last night,'' the German driver said before greeting a mob of Japanese fans. ''But not too much because this week we go to Korea.''

With four races left, his third-place in the Japanese GP on Sunday sealed the drivers title in what has been an overwhelmingly dominant season. With nine races won so far, he is in contention to equal the season record of 13 wins set by countryman Michael Schumacher.

Vettel is also just two pole positions away from the season record on that front as well - now 14, set by Nigel Mansell in 1992.

''Obviously, it was a fantastic day for us,'' he said. ''When we crossed the line it was certainly a big relief.''

The Japanese GP title was won by McLaren driver Jenson Button. Vettel, however, showed his steely will to win, defending his early lead by essentially running Button off the road with a sharp turn of the wheel. He appeared to be gunning for the checkered flag again as the race went down to the wire, but settled for the safety of third place.

''I got a radio call that the priority was to finish the race,'' he said.

In any other race for Vettel this year, third would have been a huge letdown.

The ending on the Suzuka track was his second worst of the year - he finished fourth in Germany in July - and has been in the top-two every other race.

His accomplishments have prompted many F1 fans to group him among the greats of the sport - Jackie Stewart, Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Alain Proust.

''He's had the most phenomenal of years,'' Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. ''He has raised the level.''

Vettel started winning at age 21 when he took the 2008 Italian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso. That was another record-book moment - no driver that young had finished first. It was also a sign of better things to come. He won four races for Red Bull in 2009, then five in 2010 to claim his first drivers' championship.

Celebrating Vettel's success, thousands of Germans in his hometown of Heppenheim turned out for champagne showers, fireworks and free beer. More than 100,000 revelers welcomed Heppenheim's hero back last year after his first title.

''Sometimes you have to pinch yourself,'' he said. ''I'm a normal person. It has been an incredible season. We have four more races and we want to get the best we can.''

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