Sebastian Vettel won the Laureus Sports award for the first time on March 26, 2014, after being nominated five times. – GLENN GUAN/The Star
KUALA LUMPUR: Four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel believes it is a privilege to be chosen as the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year, although it took him by surprise.
The 26-year-old Red Bull driver, who also holds the record as the youngest world champion, saw off the challenge of sprint king Usain Bolt, distance runner Mo Farah, basketball star LeBron James, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and tennis ace Rafael Nadal for his first Laureus statuette.
The German’s success was mostly due to him becoming the youngest ever four-time world champion last year, winning 13 of 19 races, including nine straight wins from August to November.
And Vettel, who has been nominated for a Laureus award a total of five times said his maiden win on Wednesday is an honour.
“It is not the biggest trophy I have won (in terms of size), but it’s a real honour to be selected as the winner,” said Vettel.
“Winning never crossed my mind because there are so many great athletes out there, and I didn’t think about it.
“Anyone could have taken the award. Ronaldo is incredible for Real Madrid and works very hard, while LeBron (James) is the Michael Jordan of today.
“As for Rafael (Nadal), from what I see, he’s a very good guy, works very hard and is really passionate and committed.
“So, even though I have had five nominations in total, which is great because it is an honour to be amongst the best, to be picked out as the winner makes it even more special.”
Vettel however will have to keep the celebrations for later as he prepares for the Malaysian GP which starts on Friday at the Sepang International Circuit.
Last year, Vettel won the Malaysian title albeit under controversial circumstances as he went against team orders, choosing instead to overtake team-mate Mark Webber in the closing stages of the race.
Despite the nine straight wins at the end of last year, Vettel has yet to get off the mark this year, retiring after three laps in the season opener Australian GP earlier this month.
The World Sportsman award will be just the boost he needs to get his season going.