• British driver says McLaren will be back with ‘better car’
• Mark Webber indicates he will stay with Red Bull next year
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button looked like a brace of bridesmaids alongside Sebastian Vettel here today. However, the two podium positions not only made McLaren appear strong runners-up to Red Bull in the constructors’ championship but also lent fresh vigour to their hopes for next season.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” said Hamilton afterwards. “I’m hoping our car will be even better and that we can really fight with these guys from the first race onwards. It has not been the most spectacular season for us, but it was a great end of season result. This year, me and Jenson pushed hard. Next year will be a better year.”
Hamilton, the 2008 champion, finished second today to confirm fourth place in the final championship table, one place ahead of Button, the outgoing champion. It was a good weekend for the McLaren pair. They have had the third fastest car in recent races but they came here for the final race and were immediately competitive, with Hamilton coming second in qualifying, two places ahead of Button, for whom Saturday has been the worst day of the week this year.
However, it looks as though they will be up against both Vettel and Mark Webber again next season. The Anglophile Webber, the man so many were rooting for once it became unlikely that the title would go to a British driver, has promised to return to fulfil his contract with the Milton Keynes team next year, despite his much publicised differences of opinion with the team.
When asked would he back he said: “Yes. There were a lot of positives this year. This weekend didn’t turn out and it’s a shame. There’s good time to reflect in the next few weeks and look at the highs and the lows, but that’s the way sport is sometimes.
“There are quite a few emotions of course when you come so close to the top and you just miss out. I tried my absolute hardest. I have great guys around me and we did what we could, but at the end it wasn’t enough and that’s where it’s at. Two championships for the team is not a bad year for us. I fully congratulate Seb on the world championship.”
All season Red Bull have appeared to favour the young German over the grizzled Australian. But their policy of giving both drivers a free hand was ultimately vindicated. The team principal, Christian Horner, said last night: “It’s down to what happens on the circuit. And that’s the way it should be.
“I always said this championship would have another twist. And the first time Sebastian has led it has been right at the end. Both drivers can be very proud. I’m very proud of what Sebastian has done.
“And Mark can hold his head high. He’s had an unbelievable year. I’m very proud of what he has achieved this year. It’s a team effort and ultimately Sebastian prevailed today.
“They both took it into the last race. He [Vettel] had had his ups and downs. He’s had a few engine issues here and there. But he has never lost faith and he has stuck at it. And he’s triumphed in the end. It’s been a very emotional and unbelievable week for all concerned.”
But Horner admitted he was surprised that Ferrari brought Fernando Alonso into the pits when they did. “It didn’t work out for them. They probably tried to cover us with what we were doing with Mark. Mark was at the back of the queue. We had to take a risk. He said the tyres were starting to go. We just went for it and took an early stop.”
Red Bull’s acclaimed designer Adrian Newey added: “Obviously, with hindsight they made a mistake. If they’d stayed out Fernando would probably have finished fourth. But at that stage it wasn’t clear.
“It depended on whether they wanted to cover Mark for the championship or Sebastian for the championship. That’s where our policy of allowing the drivers to compete got us into the position where they had to worry about two of our drivers and not just one.”
When asked to compare Vettel with the other world champions he had worked alongside, at McLaren and Williams, he added: “The things I would say are common with all the great drivers. Obviously natural talent – that goes without saying.
“But then having that underlying grit and determination, and having a good brain. And Sebastian combines that very well. And if you have that combination winning a championship hopefully becomes a matter of time.”