You wouldn’t have wanted to bet against Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel going into this year’s Race of Champions and, sure enough, the pair have pulled off their third straight win in the Nations Cup in as many years.
Britain’s new F1 World Champion, Jenson Button, partnering World Touring Car ace and Channel Islander Andy Priaulx, ran them close in the final but were just pipped to the prize in a tie-break contest.
The German drivers had defeated teams from China and Finland to reach the semi-finals where they met America’s Tanner Foust and Travis Pastrana.
Despite a huge effort by Foust to beat Schumacher, Vettel’s two wins took Team Germany to the final once again.
Meanwhile, the heavily-supported Schumacher beat Button in the first heat of the final but Vettel, the
youngest ever F1 race-winner, was beaten by Priaulx in the second heat.
In the final the two winners faced off – only for Schumacher to beat Priaulx and dash hopes of a British victory.
The remaining British favourite David Coulthard, partnering 2009 Dakar Rally Winner Giniel de Villiers in an All-Star squad, was knocked out in the group stages.
Speaking after the race, the multiple F1 champion said: “We had a nice fight. I just come back to this event to use whatever there is left of a talent.
“With this track, it’s just a case of watching where the other guy is to know how hard to push. Of course, the racing is the highlight but the other stuff that goes on around that is part of the relaxed atmosphere of the Race of Champions that we all enjoy.
Vettel added: “To win three times in a row is something that no-one has done before, so it’s a real reason to be proud.”
This was a tired and clearly partied-out Button’s first appearance in the ROC Nations Cup final, despite regular appearances at the event, and he said afterwards: “To be out there celebrating being the first loser is never best, I don’t like finishing second. It was a lot of fun – I spent most of the evening trying to hang on to my team-mate’s coat tails.”
Priaulx added: “It was a great pleasure to race against Michael, I’ve watched him race for years.
“Tomorrow’s Race of Champions main event will be a tough night, as I won’t have a team-mate to pull me through, but it’s nice to have a little success tonight.”
Host nation China reached the semi-finals of the competiton with A1GP, GP2 and Superleague Formula competitor Ho Pin Tung (known in his home country as Dong He Bin) winning two of his group races to help he and team-mate Han Han progress.
The next Race of Champions event, in which 20 drivers will do battle for the Race of Champions crown, kicks off at 7.40pm on Wednesday. Follow the event live by visiting http://www.raceofchampions.com. or watch live at http://www.autosport.com/roc.