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Reign of supremacy for Vettel, Red Bull in 2011

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line London, England (Sports Network) - After 19 rounds were contested during an eight-month period, the one thing that stands out in the 2011 Formula One season is the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull team. They were in a league of their own.

From the cancellation of the scheduled March 13 season-opener in Bahrain to Vettel's record-breaking pole and Mark Webber's win this past weekend in Brazil, this season had its share of drama on and off the racetrack.

Many races, like the Canadian Grand Prix, were an edge of your seat thriller, while others, such as the European Grand Prix, made for a good hour-and-a-half nap on the couch.

Nonetheless, the season had many notable moments worth recalling.

TWO-TIME CHAMP

Beginning with his win in the March 27 Australian Grand Prix, Vettel was untouchable throughout the season, as he led in the championship point standings from start to finish. Vettel clinched his second consecutive F1 title with a third-place finish in the October 9 Japanese Grand Prix. Four more races remained at the time -- Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil

Sebastian Vettel became the ninth different driver to win back-to-back F1 titles.
At age 24, Vettel became the youngest double champion in F1's 62-year history. The young German concluded the season with 11 wins and 17 podium appearances. Vettel also notched his season-record breaking 15th pole win in the Brazilian Grand Prix. He surpassed Nigel Mansell's 1992 record of 14 poles.

"Going into the season, we thought we had a competitive car, maybe we can win some races, but it has been phenomenal," Vettel said. "The team has been faultless most of the time, so they've raised their level massively compared to the last two years. We seem to enjoy what we do."

Vettel's only significant flaw during the season occurred earlier this month in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He started on the pole but suffered a flat tire and spun out on the opening lap. With suspension damage to his car, Vettel became the first competitor out of the event. It also ended his hopes of tying Michael Schumacher's 2004 record of 13 wins in a season.

In Brazil, Vettel overcame adversity by finishing second to teammate Webber while dealing with a gearbox problem.

"It has been a phenomenal year and a very strong finish as well," Vettel said. "Now I think we are all ready for the winter and looking forward to the break to recharge our batteries and come back as strong as this year, hopefully, at the beginning of the season next year."

Vettel became the ninth different driver to win back-to-back F1 titles. Next year, he will attempt to join Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as those drivers with three or more consecutive championships.

ANOTHER BULLISH YEAR

Red Bull once again had another banner year. The team wrapped up its second straight constructors' championship in the October 16 Korean Grand Prix.

Last Sunday, Mark Webber gave Red Bull its 12th win of the year in Brazil. It was also the third time the team finished 1-2 in a grand prix this season.

"To sign off the year with a one-two finish is a fantastic way to end the year," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said after the Brazilian Grand Prix. "To have won 12 grand prix and defended both world championships [drivers and constructors] is fantastic, and the timing is right to thank every member of the team for all their hard work."

Either Vettel or Webber won the pole for the first 16 races this season until Lewis Hamilton from McLaren captured the top starting position for the Korean GP and therefore snapped Red Bull's streak. It was the only grand prix this season that Red Bull did not claim the pole.

PLENTY OF OVERTAKING

Thanks to the Drag Reduction System -- a new technical revision for the cars -- there was an abundance of overtaking in many grand prix this season. The May 8 Turkish Grand Prix featured a near-record number of passing for position. Passing on the Istanbul circuit had been rare up until this year's race.

WET 'N WILD

From torrential rain conditions to a dramatic last-lap pass for the win, the June 12 Canadian Grand Prix had it all. McLaren's Jenson Button dealt with the heavy rain, which forced stewards to halt the race for more than two hours. Button then overcame contact with teammate Hamilton and bounced back from a penalty for speeding behind the safety car before he passed Vettel for the lead on the final lap, en route to his first of three wins this year.

Vettel appeared to be on his way to another victory, but he locked up the rear and slid wide on the last lap, allowing Button to dart around him. He finished 2.7 seconds behind Button.

BATTLE FOR SECOND IN POINTS

While Vettel had already won the world championship, the second-place finisher in points was still up for grabs heading into Brazil.

Button's third-place run in the Brazilian GP allowed him to finish second in the championship standings, as he ended the season 12 points ahead of Webber.

"We should celebrate what we've done this year," Button said. "It hasn't been perfect. [Vettel and Webber] have been quicker than us, more consistent than us, but all round, it's been a reasonable season. We've grown as a team together, and I think that we have a very good base going into 2012."

Webber wrapped up his season on a very high note by snapping his lengthy 26- race winless streak.

"Looking back, it wasn't the greatest season for me but also not the worst," Webber said. "I had a weak start to the year and wasn't able to capitalize on misfortune from others or put myself in a situation to win fair and square, which is what you want. But in motorsports, you take the victories when they come, so it was a very important win for me [Sunday] and for the team to finish on a high is great."

Fernando Alonso from Ferrari finished only one point behind Webber to place fourth. Alonso ended the 2010 season just four points behind champion Vettel.

"Let us not forget that I managed to get on the podium ten times and to score more points than last year," Alonso said. "Losing out on third in the drivers' championship is definitely not a big problem. First place is the only one that really counts."

F1's VERSION OF 'BOYS, HAVE AT IT'

Hamilton and Felipe Massa had at it several times in 2011. The two were involved in numerous on-track incidents during the season, most recently in the October 30 inaugural Indian Grand Prix.

Their ongoing feud hit a high two months ago in Singapore, where Hamilton clipped the back of Massa's Ferrari and caused a right-rear tire puncture. Hamilton, who sustained front-wing damage, was later penalized for causing the collision.

In India, the two made contact while battling for position shortly before the halfway point. Hamilton complained over his team radio that Massa turned him around. Stewards agreed with Hamilton by assessing a drive-through penalty to Massa for the incident.

Hamilton and Massa were not on speaking terms until they buried the hatchet in Brazil.

"It was good to have a nice chat with Felipe after the race," Hamilton said. "I have great respect for him, and I'm already looking forward to racing him again next year."

Hamilton finished the season fifth in points, while Massa concluded his year a distant sixth.

"I was pleased Lewis came round to see me; it was a very nice gesture on his part," Massa said.

BAHRAIN

A record 20 grand prix had originally been scheduled for this year's F1 season. But the Bahrain Grand Prix was called off due to anti-government protests in that Middle Eastern country.

In early June, F1's governing body, the FIA, reinstated the Bahrain GP to its 2011 calendar, but later that month, race organizers withdrew its rescheduled Oct. 30 date due to concerns raised by various parties, mainly F1 teams.

The Bahrain GP has been restored for the 2012 calendar, as it is scheduled for April 22.

FORTHCOMING

Formula One's return to the United States in 2012 is in doubt at the present time. The fate of the US Grand Prix will likely be known on Wednesday. F1 top boss Bernie Ecclestone and organizers of the Austin, Texas race have yet to agree on a contract. The event is scheduled November 18.

After a two-year absence, Kimi Raikkonen will make a comeback in F1 next year. Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, will drive for Lotus the next two seasons.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Chris Symeon on Twitter and Facebook.

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