SPEED Presents 2010 Mario Andretti Trophy to F1 Champ Vettel

Fresh off a 10-day goodwill tour of Europe and the Middle East to visit U.S. service members with a contingent of IndyCar drivers, racing legend Mario Andretti traveled to Red Bull Racing’s Formula One headquarters in Milton Keynes, Great Britain to present 2010 FIA Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel with the Mario Andretti Trophy as the 2010 SPEED Performer of the Year.

“I follow F1 very closely and knew of Sebastian's plight last season," said Andretti, recently named one of the “25 Coolest Athletes of All Time" by GQ Magazine. “At one point, he was almost out of the championship running and few people would have bet on him. But Sebastian didn't give up. He fought until the end and he got it done. I watched him with respect and admiration — greatly appreciating what he was doing. He was at the top of his game. It took concentration that was all-consuming. It took fierce determination and tenacity.

“At the world class level, it truly is mind over muscle, mind over competition, mind over everything," Andretti emphasized. “That's why nobody deserves this trophy more than him. He is a perfect example of what this award is about. It's about someone who perseveres. Someone who fights until the last lap of the season. Even when the odds are against you, you believe in your heart you can get it done. That's a real champion. That's the spirit of this award and I can't wait to present it to Sebastian because I truly believe he deserves it."

The award, now in its fifth season, is presented annually by SPEED to the racer who puts a premium on winning races, shines on motor sports’ biggest stages and does it all with a measure of sportsmanship and class.

In 2010, at 23, Vettel became the youngest driver ever to win the FIA Formula One World Championship, besting Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 effort by six months. The young German racer finished the season with five wins, 10 poles and 10 podiums, claiming the title in the final race of the season — a finale that marked the first time in the series’ 60-year history that four drivers had a shot at the title.

"Honoring Sebastian Vettel as SPEED Performer of the Year brings things full circle for American fans who have watched him from his first F1 race as a 19-year old at the 2007 USGP in Indianapolis," said Bob Varsha, the host of Formula One racing on SPEED and a voting member of the SPOTY panel. “You could see that he was a special talent, and his 2010 season has proven it. Despite mechanical failure, a difficult relationship with his teammate, and the suffocating pressure of life in F1, Sebastian was simply the fastest man in the sport. He proved it with double-digit poles and a clutch victory in the season finale to charge from third in points to his first world championship. And he did it all without an entourage, handling all his own affairs, and flashing a smile you could see from the moon.

"I see facets of other great champions in Vettel," Varsha added. “Like Nigel Mansell, he wants to be fastest everywhere. Like Ayrton Senna, he makes qualifying a must-see event. Like Michael Schumacher, he reacts to winning with a joyfulness that is fun to watch. And like the man for whom the Mario Andretti Trophy is named, he races simply because he loves it. Congratulations to Sebastian from all his friends in the USA."

The 2010 SPEED Performer of the Year was selected by a panel including racing legends Andretti, Dan Gurney and Sir Stirling Moss, "Wind Tunnel" host Dave Despain, veteran broadcasters Varsha, Ralph Sheheen and Leigh Diffey, SPEED.com writers Robin Miller and Tom Jensen, versatile racers Tommy Kendall and Dorsey Schroeder and a select group of SPEED motor sports producers.

The trophy, a true work of art created by bronze sculptor Elie Hazak, stands 38 inches tall and weighs 95 pounds. It features eight cars, including six of the most important in Mario’s rise to superstardom, as well as an array of artistic symbolism that captures the essence of the trophy’s namesake.

Former Mario Andretti Trophy winners and runner-ups:

2006 – Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR. Nicky Hayden, MotoGP
2007 – Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR; Donny Schatz, WoO
2008 – Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR; Tony Schumacher, NHRA
2009 – Tony Schumacher, NHRA; Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who won his fifth consecutive title in 2010 and is a three-time Mario Andretti Trophy winner, was this year’s runner-up.

The top six vote-getters will be featured in a one-hour SPEED television special on Feb. 10 at 9 p.m. ET, along with nine additional “fan chosen" SPEED Performance Awards, including RACER Rookie of the Year.

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