Category archive: Mark Webber

Mark Webber's lengthy Formula One career has seen both heartbreak and elation, and this season could very well be a high point for the veteran.

His second win of the year certainly has put the competition on notice, and he no doubt has his focus on joining Jack Brabham and Alan Jones as Australian F1 champions.

Webber does have an edge in one category, though. With his victory in Great Britain, he earned his 32nd career podium, passing Brabham for the most by an Australian driver in the sport's history. Webber has benefited greatly from his pairing with Red Bull, as 30 of those podiums have come in the past four years, and he has become a supreme example of what can happen when a talented driver is paired with a capable squad.

His drive at Silverstone showed patience and poise, as he took advantage of Fernando Alonso's ailing tires late. Overall, Webber's performance was impressive, considering Alonso appeared to be the man to beat for much of the grand prix. The Spaniard again displayed his ability to get the most out of his machine, but in the end, he was virtually powerless in stopping Webber from overtaking.

It's been a busy week for Webber, as he has extended his stay with Red Bull by another year. Webber explained his decision, saying, "I'm high on confidence at the moment and firing on all cylinders. I know the team well, and I'm very comfortable here. We have grown together over the years, and it feels like absolutely the right thing to stay with Red Bull for another season."

While Webber is excelling this season, other stars, such as Jenson Button, have continued to suffer through a down year. Button collected just a single point in Great Britain and has finished eighth or worse in six straight events. He has earned less than 40 percent of leader Alonso's point total. To put that in perspective, only one full-time McLaren driver in the past five years has had a lower percentage compared to the leader over the course of a full season (Heikki Kovalainen in 2009).

Typically, the winner of the first grand prix of the season has fared well the rest of the year, but Button is eighth in the standings. Since 1975, David Coulthard, in 2003, has the worst finish in the standings by the winner of the season opener (seventh), so if Button holds his position, it would certainly be an unusual occurrence.

Button is much too talented a driver to be so far down in the championship battle, and it is likely that his fortunes will take a turn for the better over the remainder of the year. For now, Button's assessment to reporters recently was rather alarming.

"It's not just the Red Bulls that are stronger than us," he said. "It's the Ferraris, it's the Lotuses, I even think the Williams and the Saubers."

McLaren has begun to fall off the pace this season as a whole, a rather surprising development considering the constructor appeared to be the strongest early in the year. A single upgrade can turn things around quickly, however, and this team in no way can be ruled out over the remainder of the year. After all, this season has been full of surprises, and there likely are many defining moments lurking in the shadows.

The unpredictable nature of Formula One has been on full display all season, and Monaco was no exception. A second career win in Monte Carlo for Mark Webber did not come easy, and he was forced to play defense for much of the event to secure victory. Because of his superb drive, Webber is now the 13th driver to win this prestigious event multiple times.

In addition, Red Bull further emerged as the constructor to beat on the streets of Monaco, having now won this event three straight years. That's an impressive accomplishment, considering it is the first time that's happened since a dominant McLaren squad won six straight from 1988-1993. What's more, it's an achievement not even Ferrari can claim in its illustrious history.

The past three trips to Monte Carlo now have seen Red Bull lead over 90 percent of the laps run, which is a testament to just how dominant the team has been there recently. This year, Red Bull was well prepared for multiple scenarios. Had the rain come, Red Bull would have been in excellent shape, as Sebastian Vettel was staying out in hopes that the track would dampen. If it had, he would have been primed for victory. The circuit remained dry, however, and therefore teammate Webber was again the man to beat.

More importantly for Webber, it brings his name toward the forefront of the championship discussion, and it is a reminder of just how balanced and highly contested this season is. Looking ahead, the eventual champion may not need to post the most victories, but consistent finishes in the points are without a doubt critical.

Just behind Webber was Nico Rosberg, who performed admirably but simply could not find room to overtake the leader in the closing laps. Still, it was a significant finish for him, as it was his first podium at Monte Carlo in Formula One. Rosberg has displayed some impressive performances this year, and with the maiden victory now behind him, he can focus exclusively on a championship run. So far, he's right in the title mix and has been vastly outshining teammate Michael Schumacher to the tune of 59 points to two. Of course, Schumacher has suffered from some bad fortune this year, but it is a rather staggering gap between the duo.

The top seven drivers are separated by just 31 points, meaning a victory next time out puts any one of those pilots in great position. That includes Jenson Button, who has struggled since his season-opening victory in Australia. Including Monaco, Button has failed to collect points in three events this season, already surpassing his total from all of last year.

In the past five events, Button has lost 46 points on Fernando Alonso, but the chaos that has been this season means change may just be a grand prix away, as McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh noted to reporters, "Our next stop will be Montreal, another non-purpose-built racetrack, but one on which overtaking is at least feasible. Jenson won brilliantly there last year, and Lewis [Hamilton] won superbly there the year before, so although we weren't able to add to our unrivalled record of 15 wins here at Monaco this afternoon, you can rest assured that in two weeks' time we'll be aiming to score a hat trick of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Canadian Grand Prix victories."

Right now, it's certainly anyone's guess as to who will be the next man on the podium's top step.

Close, competitive racing has been the recipe throughout this Formula One season, but if this trend continues up front in Catalunya, it will prove to be a considerable exception for the circuit.

While the track is a familiar one for teams, it has not been known for providing close finishes. Last year was very much a rarity, with Sebastian Vettel holding off Lewis Hamilton by a mere 0.6 seconds. Aside from that result, no event at Catalunya has been decided by fewer than three seconds.

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Michael Schumacher
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images Michael Schumacher owned the Grand Prix of Spain in his heyday, winning it six times.

In fact, of the 21 previous grands prix held, 19 have been won by more than a margin of five seconds and 14 have been decided by over 10 seconds.

While that certainly does not bode well for a memorable finish in Spain, if any season can deliver an exciting battle, this would certainly be among the top contenders.

The combination of tires that degrade quickly and an increase in the number of competitive teams has made this season very much a guessing game, and with any luck Spain will see a continuation of the 2012 excitement.

It certainly has been an unpredictable grand prix recently, as the last six events here have produced as many different winners. In addition, of the six former F1 champions on the grid, only Hamilton has yet to capture a win at this venue.

If Hamilton wants a legitimate chance at a victory here, he'll want to start on pole, or at least the front row. A staggering 10 of the last 11 winners have come from the pole, with the lone exception coming last year (Vettel won after starting second).

Since Catalunya began hosting F1 in 1991, only once has a driver won after starting outside the front row, and that was merely a third-place start from Michael Schumacher in 1996.

By comparison, a track such as Monaco, which stresses qualifying more than most venues, has 20 winners from the top three starting positions in that span but has just 10 from pole, compared to 16 in Barcelona.

Clearly, a top qualifying effort in Spain is absolutely critical for those who wish to win, making qualifying all that more riveting.

Perhaps Schumacher can boost his season at Catalunya, as Spain is one of his strongest grands prix. His six victories at the Spanish Grand Prix trail only France (eight), San Marino (seven) and Canada (seven) for his most at any grand prix, and he is now facing heightened expectations after his teammate Nico Rosberg drove to victory earlier this year.

Schumacher will have to continue to adjust to the Pirelli rubber, an aspect of the sport he is not pleased with, as he recently detailed to CNN.

"I just think they are playing much too big an effect, because they are so peaky and so special that we don't put the cars or ourselves to the limit," he said. "We drive like we're on raw eggs and don't want to stress the tires at all, otherwise you just overdo it and you go nowhere."

He has suffered from some bad fortune this season and, as a result, has earned fewer points than the likes of Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne and Pastor Maldonado.

His campaign with Mercedes has thus far been a disappointment, but there is still plenty of time to turn it around this season, especially with a car that appears to be more competitive than in past seasons.

The sport will also be celebrating an anniversary in Spain, as it will mark, to the day, the 62nd anniversary of the first Formula One race. That inaugural event was run in Silverstone and was won by Nino Farina and Alfa Romeo.

Spain may be the next official stop on the Formula One schedule, but the Italian circuit of Mugello will garner its fair share of attention prior to the arrival of teams at Catalunya. The venue plays host to the return of in-season testing, and the sessions will provide a very valuable opportunity for teams.

With a fifth of the season already over, teams simply cannot rest on their accomplishments to date, as the driver standings are much too tight. Sebastian Vettel may be the leader, but there are six others who trail by fewer than the equivalent of a race victory. In addition, eight drivers already have reached the podium this season, one more than the total from 2011. With the field on significantly more level ground this season, any innovation by one team could provide a huge boost.

Jenson Button certainly understands how close the competition has been this season, as he explained to The Sun, "Every race you want to have a good result and you know that a no-score is massive and it really hurts. You've got to be consistently near the front. I don't think it means you hold back going out for a win. You're not going to hold back if there is a maneuver or a move to go for, but consistency is going to be very important this year."

With Vettel dominating last year, a poor showing may have cost a driver a chance at second or third in the drivers' championship. This year, it could mean spoiling a chance at the title.

It may be difficult to assess who the true championship contenders are, considering how condensed the standings appear, but one measurement seems to shed some light: Three drivers this season -- Lewis Hamilton, Vettel and Button -- have spent far more time running among the top three than anyone else and have therefore put themselves in position for good finishes. Hamilton has run among the top three for over 58 percent of laps this season, best in the sport. Just behind are Vettel (51.1 percent) and Button (46.7 percent), while no other driver is above 30 percent.

Additionally, drivers such as Mark Webber have struggled. While his consistent finishes have put him in the middle of the title chase, he has only run 11 total laps among the top three this season (4.8 percent). He's the ideal example of a driver who could certainly be a championship threat, but thus far his numbers do not reflect exactly that.

Webber should not be ruled out by any means, however, and although his initial results have not been overwhelming, he's done an excellent job of staying right in the mix. As a result, he's a mere five points shy of Vettel.

While running among the top three does not always equate to podium finishes, it certainly will be key over the course of an entire season. Considering the early-season chaos, it's an excellent indicator of which drivers are the strong runners, and right now Hamilton looks poised for a victory sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, a team that deserves a tip of the hat this year is Williams. After enduring an arduous season last year, the historic squad has bounced back considerably, having already secured 18 points. There is still much room for improvement, however, as the team has cracked Q3 just once in four events. So far, it has been a theme of what could have been with Pastor Maldonado; he crashed very late in Australia and has suffered several misfortunes since. He'll be an interesting one to watch over the next few grands prix.

Sebastian VettelVladimir Rys Photography/Getty ImagesSebastian Vettel may find things more crowded at the front in 2012.

It was a sight that fans witnessed four times last season, but a Mark Webber victory had proved elusive in 2011.

That was until Sunday, when he capitalized on Sebastian Vettel's ailing RB7 to capture his seventh career F1 win. The victory looked fairly similar to his most recent win prior, which came over a year ago in Hungary.

Much like Brazil, Webber qualified second to Vettel at Hungary but took advantage of his teammate's in-race misfortune. Sunday, it was a gearbox issue for Vettel; in Hungary, Vettel was forced to serve a penalty for an infringement under the safety car.

While team orders are a very gray area at this point, it was clear Vettel yielded to Webber midway through the grand prix at Brazil.

That should not detract from Webber's drive, however, which was stellar. He won by nearly 17 seconds and notched the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. It was Webber's second victory in Brazil, the only Formula One venue where he has posted multiple wins.

He also led 41 laps, more than double his total from the rest of the season. It's a victory with lasting implications, as Webber enters the offseason with growing momentum.

Next season, he'll continue his pursuit of his first F1 championship, but the grid is already due to gain another former champion with the return of Kimi Raikkonen.

The 18-time winner will be paired up with Lotus Renault for the next two years as Robert Kubica continues to recover. Raikkonen had repeatedly denied interest in returning to F1 over the last few seasons, but following the announcement, he told reporters, "I can't deny the fact that my hunger for F1 has recently become overwhelming. It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team's ambition. Now I'm looking forward to playing an important role in pushing the team to the very front of the grid."

That grid will feature a record six world champions at the opening race in Australia, and every champion from 2000 onward will be represented. Raikkonen adds yet another element to the 2012 season, and it should be thrilling to see how much he can get out of his car.

He joins a list of several notable names to make comebacks in the sport, including Niki Lauda, Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost, among others. Lotus Renault showed flashes of promise this year despite a trying season, and with a semi-competitive car next year, a podium finish is not out of the question.

The 2011 season saw a dominant performance from Red Bull and Vettel, but it also featured several classics, including China, Canada and Monaco. Race lengths ranged anywhere from an hour and 20 minutes (Italy) to over four hours (Canada), and there was no shortage of great fights mid-pack in just about every race, aided by KERS and adjustable rear wings.

If McLaren and Ferrari can become more competitive next season, those battles may just shift to the front.

If Red Bull can continue to dominate, then several records set this year may be in jeopardy next season.

Vettel recorded season records in poles (15) and laps led (739) and tied Nigel Mansell's mark of nine wins from pole in a year. Including 2010, he also extended his streak of podiums to 11 straight races and earned points in 19 consecutive events. Both of those runs eventually ended, and while they were not records, they were incredible accomplishments.

Jenson ButtonJavier Soriano/AFP/Getty ImagesJenson Button and teammate Lewis Hamilton are going to have to step up if they want to win their home race.

Two teams that are underperforming by their standards may have just gotten the boost needed to compete once again at the top level. While there are two very different circumstances, they happen to be two of the most successful teams in regards to constructors' championships.

Ferrari has struggled to keep pace with Red Bull and McLaren all season, but Silverstone should go a long way in determining whether the team will be competitive for the rest of the year.

Updates to the Ferrari will be in place for Silverstone, and lead driver Fernando Alonso told the Formula Santander website, "England is a very aerodynamic circuit, very similar to Barcelona where we were very far behind and were lapped in the race," he said. "Therefore in Silverstone if we manage to be at the front, it means we have a very competitive car for what remains of the year, but if we are still so far behind, it will be difficult, and we will have to fight for partial grands prix victories: podiums, fastest laps and those types of more secondary things."

The team with an F1-best 215 victories could surely use a strong finish at Silverstone, and perhaps the ban on off-throttle exhaust blown diffusers, which comes into effect this race, will help bring some competitors back toward Ferrari.

A team suffering even more this season has been Williams. The squad has nine constructors' titles to its name, second only to Ferrari, but has collected fewer points this season than the likes of Toro Rosso and Force India.

But a recent announcement that the team will reunite with famed engine supplier Renault could boost morale heading into next season.

Williams enjoyed its best F1 years while partnered with Renault between 1989 and 1997. In those nine years, the team won five constructors' titles and a remarkable 63 races. Both figures are more than the team has been able to amass in the other 27 seasons of existence combined.

All the teams now have their eyes on Silverstone, the track that hosted the first-ever Formula One event. It's certainly changed throughout the years, and this season fans will see the race start prior to Abbey corner rather than between Woodcote and Copse.

It's no doubt one of the most classic venues on the schedule, and has hosted an F1 event uninterrupted since 1987, the fourth-longest active streak.

It's an extremely fast and flat track, so car setup is imperative there. Last year's event brought with it an extended layout, meaning the track is a shade under six kilometers. That makes it the second longest of the season behind only Spa.

Silverstone has long seen men from Great Britain claim victory at the track, but that hasn't been the case lately. The circuit has seen a driver from Great Britain win 16 times (next closest is five by France), but only once in the past 10 races. Finland has produced more winners in that span.

The past eight races have been won by as many drivers, and in the past four years, it's been a bit unpredictable.

In 2010, Mark Webber capitalized on a poor start by Sebastian Vettel to take the victory.

He entered the race fourth in the championship standings, as did winners Lewis Hamilton in 2008 and Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Vettel entered third in the points when he crossed the line first in 2009.

A driver such as England's Hamilton, who sits fourth in the standings, could therefore certainly find himself leading the field to the finish again Sunday.

Elsewhere, the grid will see a new face this weekend in the form of Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who replaces Narain Karthikeyan at HRT.

He's now the seventh driver to compete for HRT in its brief two-year existence, and in that same span the other two newcomers (Lotus and Virgin) have had just five combined.

Last year's European Grand Prix ended up being one of the most memorable races of 2010, thanks to some defining moments.

Mark Webber's end-over-end crash after colliding with Heikki Kovalainen was shocking, but, in a true testament to F1 safety, Webber was able to walk away.

It continued to highlight his career struggles at the European Grand Prix, an event he has never won in nine attempts. In those starts, Webber has just a single podium (his first with Red Bull back in 2007) and has retired on three occasions. He also has failed to lead a single lap.

Webber has been very consistent this season, as his third-place position in the standings would indicate, so a strong finish is very possible here. A race win, however, might be unlikely.

As for teammate Sebastian Vettel, he returns to this race as the defending winner. Valencia is the site of his last wire-to-wire victory, a feat he has accomplished twice in his career (Japan in 2009).

Vettel turns 24 on July 3, and a victory here would be the 16th of his career. Compare that to all-time wins leader Michael Schumacher, who had one victory before his 24th birthday.

True, Schumacher had fewer F1 races under his belt, but it's an indication of how much Vettel has accomplished at such a young age.

The driver most likely to unseat Vettel at Valencia might be Lewis Hamilton.

Despite no wins in three career Valencia races, Hamilton has finished runner-up there in each event. Last year, he gave Vettel a strong battle early on before having to serve a drive-through penalty midrace for overtaking the safety car. Despite that, Hamilton managed to close the gap on Vettel again before simply running out of time.

Hamilton is coming off a very rough two-race stretch, but that doesn't mean much in regard to his chances for victory in Spain, as six of his most recent seven wins have come directly after a nonpodium finish.

Valencia is a varied track that throws fast and slow corners at drivers. The 25 turns are the most of any course on the schedule, and the venue provides a few good overtaking opportunities, one of which comes on the run down to Turn 12.

"The lap is made up mainly of straights and hairpins, so it's not the most challenging place to go racing," Adrian Sutil of Force India told reporters. "Although the walls are close, it doesn't really feel like a street circuit, and it's nowhere close to racing in Monaco."

Force India as a team has taken a step back in performance this season, but not quite to the degree that Williams has. This, however, could be a race when fortunes change for the likes of veteran Rubens Barrichello. After failing to score points in any of the first five races this season, Barrichello has made small progress in the past two.

He collected points at Monaco and Canada, and Williams has a good track record in Valencia. The team scored a fourth-place finish there last year with its lead driver and finished fifth a year earlier with Nico Rosberg behind the wheel.

Confidence should be high for Barrichello entering this race; he has won this event before and will be behind the wheel of a car with recent upgrades to its diffuser. Considering that Barrichello had eclipsed his 2011 points total through just two races last season, he has a considerable amount of catching up to do.

Over at McLaren, reports have recently surfaced that Jenson Button is on the verge of signing a new multiyear contract with the team.

Wanting to race with a contender is understandably a huge motivation, and McLaren's 33 victories over the past six seasons are tied with Ferrari for the most in F1. Although being in the Italian automaker's stable is the dream position for nearly every driver, McLaren has looked stronger this season and might just hold a bit more appeal right now.

Then again, everyone is trying to keep up with Red Bull these days.

Every desired element seemed to come together in Shanghai: a dramatic ending, overtaking at seemingly every corner, race strategies that shifted throughout and the underlying doubt of which driver would come out on top.

Lewis Hamilton ultimately exercised a fantastic drive, overtaking Sebastian Vettel in the waning laps to claim victory for the first time since August. And he very nearly didn't even make the starting grid.

Pre-race issues involving a fuel leak nearly sidelined Hamilton, but the team made the starting grid in time. It had no ill effects, as Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button rocketed past Vettel before the first turn.

It was a warning sign for Red Bull, as the only team that had challenged Vettel this season was finally out front.

Button led early, but it was Hamilton who passed defending champion Vettel on Lap 52 as the young German struggled on worn tires.

Hamilton's three-stop strategy looked like the winning formula, as Vettel was the only one of the top-five finishers to stop just twice. It was Hamilton's 15th Formula One victory, one shy of Sterling Moss for 14th all time.

Hamilton also continues to ascend the wins list within his storied team. Hamilton is still 20 wins shy of the most by a McLaren driver (Ayrton Senna), and while that may seem like a distant milestone, consider that he is just 26.

In addition, Hamilton's collected his 15 wins in just over four full seasons. If he remains with the team, that record could be his well before his career is over.

Most importantly, his victory Sunday signaled a true challenger for Red Bull in 2011.

The defending constructors' champions still had an impressive day despite not taking a victory back to Austria, however. Vettel posted the fastest times in each practice and captured the pole, while Mark Webber fought valiantly throughout the day, turning a dreadful 18th-place start on the grid into an incredible podium drive.

Of his previous 20 podium results, Webber had never started worse than sixth.

As for Vettel, he finished a strong second and extended his run of five straight podiums, the longest streak of his young F1 career.

He leads Hamilton by 21 points in the World Championship, and considering that he entered with a 24-point lead, he did not lose much ground in the end.

As thrilling as the racing was, China was also a bit of an interesting race from an historical perspective.

The event featured the most classified finishers in F1 history (23), and the six race leaders are the most since Japan in 2008. Jaime Alguersuari was the only man who failed to finish, but through no fault of his own, as his wheel came loose after a mishandled pit stop.

While McLaren was busy picking up its 170th F1 win, second-most all time, the teams first and third on that list continue to struggle.

Williams -- third all time with 113 victories -- is enduring the longest winless drought in team history and has yet to score a point this season. Rookie Pastor Maldonado has run just 42 percent of the possible laps, while veteran Rubens Barrichello has not finished better than 13th.

It's the first time since 2002 that Barrichello has not finished better than 13th in any of his first three races of the season, and it's certainly put Williams technical director Sam Michael on the hot seat.

Ferrari -- first all time with 215 victories -- has also proved to be relatively uncompetitive compared to last year and is already 55 points shy of Red Bull in the race for the constructors' title.

The Maranello outfit showed good pace at times in China but ultimately finished over 15 seconds behind Hamilton. Twice this season, the fastest Ferrari driver has finished over 30 seconds shy of the winner.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso has also run among the top three positions for roughly just 13 percent of the time this season. Quite a disparity when you consider that he did not leave the top three for the entire season-opening win last year in Bahrain.

Sebastian Vettel has clearly fired the initial warning shot this season.

The first 30 laps at Bahrain last year looked very similar, with Vettel establishing a significant lead, but unlike 2010, Red Bull's newest car stood the test of a full race and Vettel took the checkered flag first after capturing yet another pole in Australia.

Vettel's victory was rarely in doubt, as Lewis Hamilton appeared to be his only challenger. But Hamilton's McLaren suffered damage after an off-track excursion, and following that, Hamilton was merely in damage-control mode.

In the end, the young German won by more than 22 seconds, the second-largest margin of victory in an F1 race at Albert Park behind only Damon Hill's 38-second win in the inaugural event back in 1996.

That year, Hill was challenged only by newcomer and teammate Jacques Villeneuve en route to the title.

That could very well be the same story for Vettel this season. Fernando Alonso, who finished one step off the podium, quite possibly summed it up best to reporters postrace, "Once again today, Vettel seemed to be on another planet."

Hamilton's runner-up result displayed the effectiveness of McLaren's last-minute upgrades, and the team looks poised for a strong run in 2011.

But Vettel and Hamilton's teammates did not fair particularly well, thanks in part to Mark Webber's three-stop strategy for Red Bull as well as a penalty imposed on McLaren's Jenson Button for cutting a corner.

It has to be particularly hard to swallow for Webber, who in front of his hometown crowd was seeking his first podium finish at the track. After all, this is the track where Webber made his Formula One debut, and he even managed to score points in that event while driving for Minardi. The Australian checked in fifth while Button finished sixth.

The pair found themselves chasing Vitaly Petrov throughout the day, who quickly jumped into fourth after starting sixth on the grid.

The Lotus Renault driver ran an incredible race, finishing third, his best career result. It's the second straight year that Lotus Renault finished on the podium at Albert Park, and Petrov never lapped worse than fifth, which happened to be his highest finish last season (Hungary). He could very well be looked upon to be the leader of that team in the absence of Robert Kubica, a tall order for a sophomore driver.

The speculation before the season was that races this year would feature a considerable number of pit stops due to the high degradation rate of the new Pirelli tires, and that became evident quickly in the race. Last year, the frontrunners typically utilized a one-stop strategy, but that has now become two stops.

A year ago in this race, there were 28 pit stops made. This year, there were a total of 46.

Remarkably, Sergio Perez, in his maiden F1 race, was the only finisher that visited the pits only once Sunday. He crossed the line an impressive seventh, one place ahead of teammate Kamui Kobayashi. But it was all washed away when Sauber was disqualified following the event after it was discovered that the rear end violated specified dimensions. Both young drivers can take much from their impressive performances, however.

The same cannot be said for several other teams. Williams and Mercedes both had disastrous showings, with all four cars failing to finish. Both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were victims of collisions for Mercedes, while Rubens Barrichello's retirement was considerably more self-inflicted; he ran wide at the start and then collided into Rosberg later in the race.

The black eye of the weekend was undoubtedly HRT, which relied on Australia as the testing grounds for its new car. After missing the first two practice sessions completely, the team failed to qualify for the race, posting times outside the allotted 107 percent of the polesitter's.

Red Bull's competitors will likely not be happy to see Malaysia on the calendar next.

Red Bull cruised to a 1-2 finish there last year, with Vettel taking home the victory. This year, Red Bull should be equipped with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), which should really benefit drivers on the long straights by the start/finish line.

But wild weather is a central theme of the track, and monsoon-like conditions can threaten to shake up the grid completely.

VettelMark Thompson/Getty ImagesSebastian Vettel seemed to be an unlikely champion only a few races ago.

It was a season that delivered seemingly everything.

The comeback of a seven-time World Champion, the remarkable return of a driver struck down by injury the season prior, past champions in new race seats, and an incredible title battle that went down to the last laps.

Abu Dhabi had everyone guessing who would become champion throughout much of the race, and the title picture only became clear after the sun had set in the Middle East.

Much of the talk entering race day was whether Sebastian Vettel would aid Mark Webber in his title pursuit if needed. It turned out to be the complete opposite scenario, and Vettel drove his heart out in pursuit of the title. By the narrow edge of four points, it was his, as Fernando Alonso could not manage to overtake Vitaly Petrov and finish a final championship charge.

Vettel's season was one of turmoil and vast uncertainty, but he came through when it counted most, as three of his five wins this season came in the final four events. He's now the youngest World Champion in history at 23 years and four months.

Vettel is also the second German to win an F1 crown, alongside Michael Schumacher. His late-season heroics mean that fans have seen the championship lead change hands in the final race of the year in two of the past four seasons, and the margin of victory in the title race has been four points or fewer in three of the last four years.

Incredibly, Vettel had never held an outright lead in the championship standings before Abu Dhabi in his career. He's now done just about everything a young driver can do in Formula One, setting numerous age records in the process. Winning Monaco is one of the few remaining challenges he has not conquered, but several Monte Carlo wins are likely in his future.

The nation of Germany now has eight world titles, all coming since 1994. That's tied for the second most by a single nation all-time with Brazil, and behind only Great Britain.

We likely will look back on this era in F1 with fond memories, as it has delivered some fantastic championship battles. With a sizeable amount of young talent on the grid, the championship fight between the likes of young guns and more experienced drivers promises to wage on for years to come.

And alas, another Ferrari driver, much like Felipe Massa in 2008, feels the sting of losing out on the title by the narrowest of margins. It is of course no consolation to Alonso, but he can still become the youngest to win a third title next year if he snatches the championship.

Webber is relegated to a third-place finish in the points, still the best of his career. Before his fourth-place finish in 2009, he had never placed better than 10th.

And something to think about as we head into the offseason; in the heart of the Middle Eastern desert, a German driving for an Austrian-owned constructor claims the championship.

His teammate, an Australian, came close to the title. So did a Spaniard, who drives for an Italian outfit, but he could not manage to get by a Russian to keep his championship hopes alive.

The previous two champions, both from England, were among the first to congratulate the new title holder as he emerged from his car. Next year, F1 welcomes India to the grid, and the year after, returns to the United States. Formula One has truly gone global.