Hard to wipe off this smile - Vettel celebrates his championship title [AFP]

Germany's Sebastian Vettel is Formula One's new world champion after winning the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become its youngest ever champion.

Vettel started the race from pole position but sat 15 points behind two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari. The pressure did not get to the 23-year-old driver under the Yas Marina floodlights as he chalked up his fifth win of the season while Alonso, the pre-race favourite for a third title, struggled home seventh, trailing Vettel by four points in the final standings.

"It has been an incredible journey, to lead the championship after the last race is unbelievable,'' Vettel said.

"It's been extremely intense and a tough season mentally.''

Alonso started third but paid the price for pitting his Ferrari too early and getting stuck behind Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov for nearly 40 laps.

Vettel, adding the drivers' crown to the constructors' championship won the previous weekend in Brazil, ended up with 256 points to Alonso's 252.

'Unbelievable'

"Weltmeister!'' Vettel's team screamed over the car radio moments after he crossed the line, using the German word for world champion.

"Unbelievable! Thank you,'' Vettel replied in a strained voice, barely able to speak because of the emotion, as Red Bull engineers and crew threw themselves into each other's arms.

Team principal Christian Horner spared him no emotion: "You are the world champion. Enjoy it. You are the man," he bellowed from the pit wall.

Red Bull's Mark Webber of Australia came in behind Alonso and finished third overall, 14 points back from his teammate Vettel.

Frustration

Alonso spent lap after lap trying in vain to find a way past Renault's steely Russian Vitaly Petrov while Ferrari held their breath and hoped for the rookie to make a mistake under pressure. It never happened.

"It's critical to pass, I know you are doing your best," team boss Stefano Domenicali told him over the radio as early as lap 16.

"Use the best of your talent, we know how big it is, use it," implored his race engineer Andrea Stella 26 laps later with just 13 remaining and the title hopes trickling away into the night.

Top ten driver standings
1. Sebastian Vettel GER Red Bull 256
2. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari 252
3. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull 242
4. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren 240
5. Jenson Button GBR McLaren 214
6. Felipe Massa BRA Ferrari 144
7. Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes GP 142
8. Robert Kubica POL Renault 136
9. M Schumacher GER Mercedes GP 72

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who had to win in Abu Dhabi to have any hope of the title, finished second and was first to congratulate Vettel after they had stepped out of their cars.

While Vettel celebrated, seven times world champion Michael Schumacher's comeback season ended with a smash on the opening lap when his Mercedes spun and was speared by Force India's Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Schumacher, the only other German to have won the title, was fortunate to escape serious injury as the car ploughed into the side of the stationary Mercedes and rode up over the airbox just behind Schumacher's head.

The safety car was immediately deployed and stayed out for four laps.

Alonso shook his fist angrily as he pulled up alongside Petrov when they glided over the line.

"This is sport, this is motor racing, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. After the race it's always better to see the better strategy. Petrov was very aggressive. Next time we'll try again," said Alonso afterwards.

Source: Agencies