Grand Prix racing is a sport for young men. And they are getting younger. Sebastian Vettel has just become Formula One's youngest ever world champion at the tender age of 23, knocking a couple of months off Lewis Hamilton's record.
And neither of them should think there aren't another wave of ambitious boy racers waiting in the wings. Lewis Williamson will have an F1 test drive with Hamilton's McLaren team soon after landing the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC award last night.
But when the 2011 season starts Vettel will still have pretty fierce competition from one of the game's "old men" in his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber. The Aussie, 34 now, should have held off the young German's progress this season but threw away an 11 point lead with four races left. And today he's owned up to the reason why his season collapsed so badly - he raced those last decisive contests with a broken shoulder after injuring himself riding a mountain bike on the morning before the Japanese Grand Prix.
Quite what he was doing preparing for a big race by putting himself at risk, who knows? He's owned up to the accident in his new book. It's hard to imagine that Red Bull's team boss Christian Horner will be too happy to find out about it now, either. Webber kept the injury secret from Horner, owning up at the time only to his physio Roger Cleary and F1's chief medical officer Gary Hartstein as he got through the last weeks of the season with pain killing cortisone injections.
Curiously Webber didn't mention the episode when I saw him appear on Shane Warne's Australian TV chat show a week or so ago. He was obviously waiting to flog a few extra books by confessing now. But one thing he did make clear is that his rivalry with Vettel will burn every bit as bright next season. That, to me, is a good reason to make a little long term investment now and lay Vettel, the current 4.2 favourite, for next year's Drivers' Championship.
Nobody has succesfully defended motor sport's most glamorous prize since Fernando Alonso in 2006, a sign of the increased competition since Michael Schumacher's strangle hold on Formula One in his glittering red Ferrari came to an end. And I'm not at all convinced that Vettel is the finished article as a driver yet. He had the fastest car this year but still contrived to make a succession of mistakes that should have held him back from winning the crown. And with a winter of testing and development ahead, who is to say which team will come up with the brightest engineering advances next spring?
Even if Red Bull continue to dominate in the garage, expect Webber to rival the young German on the track - and he made it clear in his Aussie chat show appearance that he's demanded, and been promised, equal treatment in 2011.
It was about this time last year that I opposed Jenson Button's chances of retaining the title, and that was easy money. Going against Vettel is an even better priced opportunity.
Five things you might not know about Lewis Williamson
1. Born in Dundee in November 1989, he was eight when he convinced his dad Ian to let him have a try behind the wheel after they'd been to Kent to watch his cousin Andrew Wilson, a Scottish go-karting champion.
2. By then his family had moved to the remote Highland village of Golspie where he still lives. It's an 11-hour trek to compete at most British circuits.
3. He won the 2008 British Grand Prix in the amateur dominated sport of gearbox karting, held at Cadwell Park near Lincoln.
4. The first time he stepped into a Formula Jedi he finished on pole then won the race. This year he missed out on the Formula Renault title by just six points.
5. He's been studying for an engineering apprenticeship with his sponsors Ross Shire Engineering - which means a 100 mile drive to work every day. They still expect him to clock on at eight on a Monday morning after race weekends.
By Ralph Ellis
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