But, according to an official Laureus statement issued after Wednesday's gala ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, only his 2013 triumph saw him "join motor racing legends Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost" in winning four titles, "but he did it more quickly than them".
"To be nominated for the award is a great honour for me and to win the award is truly very special," Vettel said after receiving the award in Malaysia.
"It is totally a very special moment for me as I can sit among the great sporting legends," he told a press conference.
The Laureus statement said Vettel, 26, is now "one of the greatest drivers of all time".
Vettel beat fellow nominees Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, both athletes, as well as basketball's Lebron James, tennis' Rafael Nadal and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.