Quick as he is once strapped inside a race car, Sebastian Vettel instinctively slows it down whenever quizzed about his place in Formula One history.
Those insightful, emotional moments have become routine during Vettel’s winning streak, which reached a record eight consecutive races when the “chequered” flag fell on the second annual United States Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon. Vettel’s first victory at Circuit of The Americas was his 12th in 18 races in 2013 and a record eight in a row, snapping the single-season mark set by fellow German and boyhood idol Michael Schumacher with Scuderia Ferrari in 2004.
Alberto Ascari of Italy won nine consecutive races — six at the end of the 1952 season and the first three in 1953 — en route to consecutive F1 World Driving Championships with Ferrari.
Vettel, who clinched his fourth consecutive world championship with Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault two races ago, can tie “The Great Schumey” for most single-season wins at 13 in next Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
“We’ll have to remember these days. There’s no guarantee they’ll last forever,” Vettel, 26, said over his radio to team principal Christian Horner and crew during a cool-down lap around COTA’s 3.4-mile, 20-turn layout. “I love you guys. We have an incredible team spirit. I love you guys.”
Reaching the apex of COTA’s signature uphill Turn 1, Vettel spun off a series of tire-smoking, rubber-burning “donuts” — an American ritual that now has continued for a record three consecutive F1 races.
But there’s more. Vettel’s 38th career victory in 119 starts left him three short of tying triple world champion Ayrton Senna of Brazil for third on an all-time list topped by seven-time world champion Schumacher at 91.
“It’s incredible,” said Vettel, avoiding eye contact and measuring his words during the post-race interview conducted by the sanctioning FIA. “I think it’s one of those things that you never expect to … one of those records that you never expect to be beaten, so it’s very difficult to find the right words. I didn’t really answer the questions the last couple of days because what makes me jump into the car is not a certain number. But certainly today, when you realize that you’ve done it, it makes you very proud in that moment.
“People look back and talk about that time and about certain drivers and one day people might look back and talk about our time and what we’ve done as a team.”
Pole-sitter Vettel ran a one-pit stop strategy, starting on Pirelli’s medium compound rubber before switching to the hard compound on Lap 27. The top 12 finishers opted for that one-and-done pit strategy. Vettel led all but two of the 56 laps, 192 miles while finishing 6.284 seconds ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who posted his best result of the season for Lotus/Renault. Australian Mark Webber, Vettel’s lame duck RBR teammate, completed the podium in third.
“Pole position was where the fight was,” Webber said of Saturday’s knockout qualifying. “Yeah, I did a pretty clean race. I think the performance and pace were very strong from my side, but yesterday was when victory was made easier for Seb.”
Gov. Rick Perry handed Vettel his trophy, although Seb declined to don a white Stetson on the podium.
The day began on a serious note as COTA officials, in conjunction with law enforcement in Travis County, investigated “a suspicious incident in the Turn 1 area.” During routine security checks public safety officials — including representatives of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — responded and found nothing wrong. As a precaution, opening of the entire facility was delayed while follow-up security checks were completed.
Sunday’s race was played out in postcard-perfect weather before an announced crowd of 113,162 fans, down from last year’s 117,429. Three-day attendance was 250,324, down from last year’s 265,499.
“I would like to say ‘thanks’ to the crowd,” Vettel said during an interview with Mario Andretti, F1 world champion with Team Lotus in 1978 and COTA’s official ambassador. “It’s unbelievable. Only our second race here and we’ve got more than 100,000 people coming on Sunday. The whole city is going crazy, so it’s phenomenal to race here in front of the crowd.”