Vettel retirement a rare blip in near perfect year
Updated: November 13, 2011, 14:16
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates(AP) For the first time this season, Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel was forced to watch a race from the pits.
The 24-year-old Vettel has appeared untouchable at times this season, racking up 11 victories on the way to a second consecutive F1 title. Only once before Sunday had he failed to finish on the podium.
He was poised to add victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after he grabbed a record-tying 14th pole position of the season on the last lap of qualifying on Saturday.
But within seconds of pulling away into the lead, the right rear tire of his Red Bull car punctured. Vettel spun into the gravel at Turn Two and though he managed to limp back to the pits, the damage to his suspension made it impossible for him to continue.
Vettel, the dominant force of 2011, was out of the race on the first lap.
"I had a good start and I was very happy with the car up until that point,'' Vettel said. "To lose the race there, so early on, it hurts for sure.
"There wasn't much we could do, so after that I took the opportunity to learn a little bit on the pit wall.''
Vettel said he was visited in his garage by Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone, who congratulated him on his "good timing'' with his first retirement of the season coming after he had wrapped up the title.
Vettel then watched Lewis Hamilton claim his third win of the season, a distant second behind the world champion's 11.
"It wasn't as exciting as being in the car,'' Vettel said, although he did stay in the pits longer than he planned. "Initially I planned to stay only five laps, but then it turned out to be nearly the whole race.''
With one race remaining in Brazil, Vettel can no longer tie Michael Schumacher's record of 13 victories in a season.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who grimaced and looked away from the television monitor as Vettel crashed out, had no explanation for the sudden failure of Vettel's tire.
"Sebastian made a perfect start and had a clear lead into the first corner and then an instantaneous loss of pressure in the tire made him a complete passenger,'' Horner said.
Vettel said he could feel something was wrong on his right side going into the second corner of the first lap.
"I had to catch the car surprisingly and then I couldn't do it anymore as I'd lost too much air in the rear right tire,'' he said. "When I got back to the pits, the resulting suspension damage meant we couldn't carry on.
"There wasn't anything we could have done better really this weekend. We just need to look at what had caused the puncture.''
Vettel vowed to do everything he could to find out why the tire failed, telling BBC television: "If you have a girlfriend and she splits up (with you) one day, you'd like to understand (why).''
Pirelli, which this season replaced Bridgestone as the tire supplier for Formula One races, said it would investigate the matter.
"Together with Red Bull Racing, we're still examining the remains of Sebastian Vettel's tire in order to try and piece together what happened,'' Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery said in a statement. "It certainly seems to be a very unusual incident and we've already been to look at the place with Sebastian: there seems to be no reason that is immediately obvious and the set of tires was one that he had already used for qualifying.''
Hamilton, who was in second at the time of the incident, said he saw Vettel slide off the track. Rather than celebrating his good fortune, Hamilton said he was just concerned with avoiding contact with the German's car and maintaining his lead.
"I didn't know which way it was going to go so I was just trying to avoid that,'' he said. "I saw immediately that something had happened to his tire and that's why he was going sideways. I was just making sure that I didn't collect him as he potentially (could come) across the track. After that, I saw that I had two very quick drivers behind me and I was just trying to keep the gap.''