Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Sebastian Vettel has not only placed himself among the greatest drivers in Formula One history but in the ranks of the best ever in motorsports as well.
Vettel's win in Sunday's Indian Grand Prix allowed him to clinch his fourth consecutive F1 world championship. At 26, the Red Bull driver joined his German compatriot, Michael Schumacher, and the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio as those who have claimed four more titles in a row. Frenchman Alain Prost had quadruple championships, not consecutively, during his career.
"To join people like Prost, Fangio and Michael is unbelievable. I think this is one of the best days in my life so far," Vettel said after his victory in the Indian GP.
Vettel holds an insurmountable 115-point lead over his closet competition, Fernando Alonso from Ferrari, with three grand prix left this season.
Both Schumacher and Prost have publicly welcomed Vettel to the four-time F1 champions' club. Schumacher holds the record for most titles with seven, including five in a row from 2000-04. His 91 career wins is also tops in the sport.
"A big compliment and many congratulations to Sebastian," Schumacher wrote on his official website. "Terrific performance from him and his team, cool year, he really deserves this fourth title!"
Schumacher was 25 years old when he won his first championship in 1994, driving for Benetton at the time. He clinched his second title the following year. Schumacher's fourth in 2001 came when he was 32.
"I'm getting older, but I think I'm not that old yet," Vettel said. "To achieve that in such a short amount of time is very difficult to grasp, maybe in 10 years' time. I'm trying very hard to come to the level I am now, and maybe then, I'm a little bit better in understanding what we have done so far."
Prost won his championships in 1985, '86, '89 and '93. His 51 grand prix victories puts him second on the all-time F1 race winners list.
"I'm delighted to see Sebastian win the title," Prost said. "He is a great driver, and he has had some outstanding wins this year, some of the best of his career so far. Singapore was one of those wins. He was fighting all the way, but he made it look easy, which is always a mark of a worthy winner. You can see he is methodical in his approach, builds a strong team around him that is 100 percent motivated for success and is entirely focused on the end result.
"He is a great champion, and I don't think this title will be his last. He has a good team around him, stability with the technical team and with Renault, and, of course, he is still young enough to challenge for more. I'm pleased to see him equal my four titles. I wish him all the best to go on and win others and become a great Renault champion."
Affectionately known as "bandy legs" by his many fans, Fangio captured his four straight titles from 1954-57. He won five championships in all, with his first coming in 1951.
Last year, Vettel edged Alonso by just three points for the title, but this season, Vettel has been unstoppable, winning 10 grand prix, including the last six.
F1 heads to Abu Dhabi next weekend and then Austin, Texas on Nov. 17 before the season wraps up with the Nov. 24 Brazilian Grand Prix. If Vettel wins the next three grand prix, he will tie Schumacher's 2004 record for most victories in a season with 13. There were 18 races during the '04 season compared to 19 this year.
"It's amazing what (Vettel) has achieved, not just (Sunday), but this year, last year, the year before and the year before, to have won four consecutive world championships is quite remarkable," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. "He joins a very illustrious group of drivers in this sport now, and he fully deserves his place in history alongside them. He just continues to get better."
Vettel's emotions got the best of him after taking the checkered flag for the Indian GP. He has now won this event from the pole three times. In an unusual post-race celebration, Vettel made several donuts in front of the main grandstand. He then hopped out of his car and kneeled in front of it, kissing the front end, in appreciation of his team's efforts. His on-track party didn't stop there, as he saluted the race fans by climbing the fence and throwing one of his gloves into the grandstand.
"I'm not taking all the credit myself," he said. "I'm very thankful for what these guys (Red Bull team) are doing. If you look at their pay check at the end of the month, you'd be surprised if you could do the amount of hours that they do. I think it's better to work at McDonald's than to do what they do. It's 100 percent commitment. They love their job, and they love the fact that they are working on a Formula One car and get to see technology like that."
F1 stewards had a sit down with Vettel shortly after, as he received a $34,468 (25,000 Euro) fine and a reprimand for failing to go straight to parc ferme.
Red Bull also captured its fourth successive constructors' championship this year, mainly due to Vettel's number of victories. Mark Webber, who has yet to win a race in 2013, is leaving the team and F1 at season's end and joining Porsche's new sports car program in the Le Mans 24 Hours and World Endurance Championship next year.
Vettel being one of the greatest race car drivers of all time sure does make for a great debate. He's still 55 wins away from matching Schumacher's record of victories. But Vettel's career in the sport is far from being over.
On Sunday, 64-year-old John Force won his record 16th National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Funny Car championship. Ten of Force's titles came consecutively from 1993-2002.
Jimmie Johnson is attempting to win his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title this year. He is tied with Matt Kenseth for the points lead with three races to go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Johnson claimed a record five straight titles from 2006-10. Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt share the record for most championships in NASCAR's top series with seven each.
Vettel is already establishing himself as a motorsports legend, but in the years to come, he could be considered as the greatest race car driver of all time.