Vettel, Red Bull set new benchmarks
The 2011 Formula One season began as the last one had ended: victory for world champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull.
Well actually, the Formula One season began by not beginning at all. Civil unrest, which led to several deaths, forced race organisers of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix to first postpone and later cancel the race altogether. The first race of the season was thus held in Melbourne, with Vettel, who in 2010 became the youngest-ever world champion, winning from pole.
Former world champion Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren was second, with Vitaly Petrov third in a Renault.
For the French-based Renault team it was a terrific result after a horrific crash during a rally in February ended Robert Kubica's season before it even started.
In his place former Williams driver Nick Heidfeld was given a seat, which he however had to vacate midway through the season for Bruno Senna.
Vettel's victory on the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit was the first of 11 during the season, leaving him just two shy of Michael Schumacher's record of 13 race victories in 2004. He did, however, manage to beat Nigel Mansell's 1992 record of 14 pole positions. He also became the youngest-ever double world champion.
After picking up the opening victory in Melbourne, the young German never looked likely to relinquish his lead and with six races to go, Vettel had a chance to win the championship in Singapore. He did what he needed, but Jenson Button in a McLaren spoiled the victory celebrations as his second place meant the Briton still had a theoretical chance of winning the title, but two weeks later, Button's hopes were dashed in Suzuka, as despite his win, Vettel got the points he needed to be crowned champion with four races to go.
"To win the championship here is fantastic. There are so many things you want to say at this moment but it's hard to remember all of them," Vettel said at the time. "It is great to achieve the goal we set ourselves going into this year already now."
A race later in Korea, Red Bull added the constructors' title to Vettel's drivers' championship, ensuring a second consecutive title for the Milton Keynes-based team.
Red Bull also established a new record for the most number of poles in one season, as Mark Webber added three poles to Vettel's 15 to give Red Bull 18 out of 19 poles for the season, with only Hamilton gatecrashing the party in Korea.
Kubica's crash before the season was the only serious one involving Formula One drivers, but two stars of the sport lost their lives in race accidents.
Two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died during a IndyCar World Championship race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on 16 October.
Just a week later Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli was killed in a crash when he collided with two other riders during the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The two were remembered by Formula One drivers at the Indian Grand Prix at the end of October when a minute of silence was observed.
Button, who finished runner-up in the race to Vettel, said he wanted to dedicate the first race in India to the two who were killed.
"The last two weekends have been very, very difficult and we had two fatalities and it is very difficult, especially with Dan," he said. "I knew Dan from a very early age and he was always the guy you had to beat. It is a very, very sad day and I think we should dedicate this first Indian race to Dan and obviously to Marco, who was another super-talented youngster."
Australian MotoGP rider Casey Stoner said that Simoncelli's death reminded him how precious life is. "It makes me feel sick inside."
Stoner went on to win his second MotoGP title, while Stefan Bradl from Germany took the Moto2 class. Spaniard Nicolas Terol won the 125ccm class.
Sebastien Loeb continued to dominate the World Rally Championship, not only winning five rallies during the season, but also picking up his eighth world championship.
Leaving the World Rally Championship is former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who has decided to return to F1 in 2012 after a two-year absence.
The Finn has signed with Renault and his return may add some spice to a season that could well see Vettel and Red Bull dominate just as they did in 2011.
By Peter Auf Der Heyde, DPA