Sebastian Vettel stole the show at the AUTOSPORT Awards as he took to the stage to collect his International Racing Driver of the Year trophy.
Revelling in the occasion, having flown in from the Race of Champions after declining a live German TV interview, Vettel was all smiles as he shared the memories of his brilliant 2011 campaign.
On stage he reflected on his campaign, on why he chose to be at the AUTOSPORT Awards, and gave as good as he got with host Steve Rider as he talked about his predictions for 2012. Here is what Vettel had to say.
Sebastian Vettel: "To be honest, last year was the first time I was here and I picked up one of these trophies because it means a lot to me.
The thing I like about F1 is that I love racing, I love the cars, I am very passionate and I love the history, tradition and the ability to compare to previous race drivers - and I was feeling very honoured when I walked down the stairs last year and heard this nice song, used by this BBC... [The Chain by Fleetwood Mac]
As I walked down, the people were clapping and feeling the appreciation and the respect for what we have achieved, what I achieved last year, and it made me feel very special. This year has been a bit more difficult to come back, because a lot of people were after us and after me. They tried to squeeze me in the German TV show, but also it was a tough decision because usually it is a weekend, Sundays, when the Germans clean their cars!
So it was a tough decision, but as I try not to be too German... it was not a hard decision. A lot of former race drivers, active race drivers, are in the audience, so it is really special.
Q. So tell us about your season then?
SV: I think for all of us in a way, when we start racing as a kid, as we have seen in karts, we dream of F1, or the WRC, and it is so far away, it is out of reach. You see those guys and they are like heroes.
You dream about maybe one day driving an F1 car, racing an F1 car, and the day F1 got closer and closer to me my dream was to win the world championship once. So to do that, it takes some time to really sink in. But after it gives you so much satisfaction because once things calm down, you realise you have achieved something that nobody can take away from you.
That is the most special bit - and that is how I felt. Starting this year I felt we had so much energy, because there were areas where we were not 100% last year, and I think we were pretty close to 100% this year. So it has been a phenomenal year. It is difficult if you see the [television] images to realise what we have achieved - so many wins, and so many pole positions - so sorry Nigel [Mansell]!
Q. And records are important to you aren't they?
SV: Not important but as F1 means a lot to me, and I am not an expert - I don't work for TV. I cannot call myself an expert, I stick to driving!!
It is not as if I am racing for records, but this year has been exceptional when people come back and remind you of this and that - it is fantastic. One of the first things I did last year after we won the championship was that I went on to Wikipedia and checked my name was already up there - because it is nice to see that, and nice to compare!
Q. It was a season of utter domination. In Brazil you finished behind Mark Webber and you were beaten by Michael Schumacher [in the Race of Champions], is it so frustrating that it all apart at the end.....!!?
SV: I was even berated by Jenson [Button] for not wearing a tie here - but I will do than when I was 30-plus!
Q. So what are your thoughts for next year?
SV: You never go into a season aiming to achieve less than you did the year before. Of course there are still things that we did not achieve 100% this year. There are some mistakes we can learn from, and I hope we do.
Surely the competition will be higher and we have seen, particularly McLaren at the end of the year being very strong with Jenson and Lewis [Hamilton]. So it will not be a walk in the park, but I don't think it has been this year. The gaps, if you look at the scoreboard, have been quite big. We had a phenomenal start. But then I think the racing has been very close, and I think the real difference - I don't think our car was that dominant this year.
Last year we had a more competitive car in that regard. This year we were a more competitive team and we were able to race again, and do things in a different way, in a better way, and in the end that led to good start and from a television side maybe a boring race, but it is not that easy at all how these things come together.
Q. So what you are saying is that if you had a decent car you would be really good!?
SV: I am not saying that! I would never say that! There are a lot of things that need to come together - hard work. I am sitting in the car, Mark and myself, but there are a lot of people working day and night, and it is a great team for sure.
Q. Kimi Raikkonen is coming back next year. We tried to get him here to say a few words...
SV: So why is he not here?
Q. I've no idea..
SV: I was at the Race of the Champions last night...and the last couple of years I ran away from Michael and last night I didn't get to run away! So I thought that was one of the reasons that Kimi was not here!!! No, Kimi is a very nice guy, and the Finns are different - talented.