SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 10, 2011 (Gordon Howard / AFP) - A jubilant Sebastian Vettel says his second world championship, which makes him the youngest back-to-back winner in Formula One history, is even more special than last year's triumph.
After a night of celebrations, the 24-year-old German, the outstanding driver all season, was still struggling to take in his achievement following a third-placed finish in his Red Bull in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
That result -- he came home behind winner Jenson Button of McLaren and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso -- wrapped up a second successive title for Vettel, with four more races left in the season for him to underline his superiority.
"It is not just me, but it is the whole team that does the work for this," he said. "So I want to thank every single person -- the whole team back at Milton Keynes in England and everyone in the race team.
"We have done it all together and this time around, really, it feels great. You know last year when I won the title at Abu Dhabi it was the last race.
"I won and it was all over and the season was finished and I had a long time out of the car.
"This year, it's a bit different and it makes it more special so I'm looking forward to the rest of the season now."
Vettel, who needed just one point in Japan to clinch the title, joins a pantheon of greats that includes Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher as one of only nine drivers to successfully defend the title.
Vettel said having his compatriot and boyhood hero Schumacher racing alongside him made his crowning glory that bit more special.
"You know, I never imagined that I would win the world championship, and the second world championship, and Michael drives past me doing this (a thumbs-up)," Vettel said.
"That's really weird because when I was a little boy he was already Formula One world champion. So that imagination was far out of sight.
"But it is those sort of small details that make this something very special for me.
"Life for all of us doesn't get much better than this."Red Bull team chief Christian Horner was effusive in his praise for the unassuming Vettel.
Horner said: "He joins a very elite group now. He has marked himself out as one of the greats. At such a young age, it's phenomenal what he's achieved in such a short space of time."
And Horner had a warning for the field left in Vettel's wake, saying: "The best is still to come.
"He strives for perfection and the work rate that he puts in is one of the things that marks him out."
The seven-time world champion Schumacher, now 42, who finished a strong sixth for Mercedes at Suzuka, said: "I'm very excited for him. He is a great driver and still so young! And he is the youngest double world champion.
"I feel very excited and happy for him and I hope he can stay at the top a long time.
Alonso, the last man to successfully defend his title, in 2006, said: "He drove perfectly in all races and qualifying in all conditions. He deserved it."
McLaren rivals Button and Lewis Hamilton, two previous world champions, were also fulsome in their praise. Hamilton, who has endured a difficult campaign, called it "a perfect season" from Vettel.
Button added: "Sebastian this year has been phenomenal and he totally deserves the world championship here. He has been given the equipment to do a good job -- and you need that -- but he has delivered and he hasn't really made any mistakes this year.
"He has been very quick in qualifying and he has been on the podium every race except one. His worst position is a fourth -- how many drivers would dream to get a fourth? He is right at the top of his game."
Despite having the title in the bag, Vettel said he had no intention of easing off and wants to increase his total of 19 career wins in the remaining races in South Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
The Red Bull team will also be hunting to retain their crown as the constructors' world champions, hoping to clinch that at the Korean Grand Prix this weekend.
"I want us to finish the job off," said Vettel.