F1: New German champ eclipses old in 2010
London: A season that started with one German world champion making a headline-grabbing comeback at the age of 41 ended with a much younger one, Red Bull`s Sebastian Vettel, roaring to the Formula One title.
The sport enjoyed a vintage 60th year in 2010 and, if Mercedes can give Michael Schumacher the competitive car he craves, it could get even better next season with five champions on the starting grid.
The youngest ever, 23-year-old Vettel, eclipsed the return of the most successful F1 driver of all time and at a stroke doubled the number of German world champions in the history of the sport.
He is still a long way off Schumacher`s seven titles and 91 race wins but, with a first championship and 10 career victories under his belt, is up to speed and already mature beyond his years. He will only get better.
In a rollercoaster championship that was always too close to call, with an unprecedented four-way, last-race battle for the crown, the title went ultimately to the fastest man in the quickest car.
The emphasis was firmly on the track, with the racing remarkably free of the paddock politics that had soured recent campaigns although Ferrari were back in the thick of controversy and fined $100,000 for using banned `team orders` in Germany to ensure Fernando Alonso won.
Vettel won five races, the same number as Alonso, but took 10 pole positions out of 19. Without reliability problems, and the occasional wild moment, he could have wrapped up the title much earlier.
Next year, team orders will no longer be banned, although teams can still be punished if their actions bring the sport into disrepute, and there will be more champions chasing the title than at any time since 1970.
Apart from Schumacher, Vettel and Alonso, McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will be hungry to get back on top after an ultimately frustrating campaign that at least demonstrated how well they can get along.
There will be a new sole tyre provider in Italy`s Pirelli after Japanese company Bridgestone called it a day, and a longer calendar than ever with the addition of India as a 20th race after South Korea`s debut last October.
For the second year in a row, the constructors` championship went to a `customer team`, a privately-run outfit using engines provided by a manufacturer with its own less successful team.
Renault-powered Red Bull, with technical head Adrian Newey designing a championship-winning car for a third team after previous success with Williams and McLaren, were a cut above their rivals.
Australian Mark Webber, Vettel`s team mate, twice led the championship and went into the final race ahead of the German in the standings with only Spaniard Alonso in front of him.
Webber, 34, will have another shot at the championship next year but his best chance may be behind him now.
Whether Red Bull can continue as pacesetters remains an open question, with Mercedes (formerly champions Brawn GP) devoting their energies to the 2011 car once it became apparent that Schumacher and team mate Nico Rosberg were not driving a winner.
McLaren and Ferrari, who along with Mercedes will have strong KERS systems in 2011 with the return of the kinetic energy recovery devices, will both be working flat out to raise their performances after ending the year second and third.
In a constantly changing landscape, with six different championship leaders and a new scoring system rewarding winners, there were moments that will endure long in the sport`s collective memory.
Felipe Massa`s race engineer Rob Smedley provided one when he informed the Ferrari driver with a heavy heart that Alonso was quicker than him while the Brazilian was leading the Spaniard in Germany.
Massa duly let Alonso through and the rumblings were heard all the way to the final race in Abu Dhabi, where Ferrari were undone by a strategic error that denied their Spaniard his third title.
There can be no doubt that Alonso, who triumphed on his Ferrari debut in Bahrain and won over the team instantly, will be the scuderia`s main man next year however.
There was also Webber`s near-vertical take off, and miraculous escape unscathed after landing upside down, when he rammed into Heikki Kovalainen`s Lotus in Valencia.
Fans witnessed the two Red Bulls colliding in Turkey while fighting for the lead and Webber accusing the team of favouring his team mate later in the year.
At Silverstone, when the Australian secured victory after having the latest specification front wing taken off his car and handed to Vettel, he declared it was `not bad for a number two`.
Ironically, he will have the number two on his car next season. Vettel will be number one.
At the back end of the grid, Malaysian-owned Lotus Racing ended the season as the best of the three newcomers and, renamed Team Lotus on a grid that will also include a rival Lotus Renault team, can expect to be closer to the leaders next year.
Germany had seven drivers among the 24 racing in Abu Dhabi last month.
It may be a while before that happens again, with the world`s emerging economies increasingly making themselves felt.
Russia had their first F1 driver in Vitaly Petrov while Mexico and Venezuela, with Sergio Lopez and Pastor Maldonado respectively, will end decades without a man on the grid.
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