After making a perfect getaway from his record-equalling 14th pole of an epic season, Vettel's race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi lasted just two corners before an inexplicable right-rear puncture sent him spinning off track.
Although double world champion Vettel trundled back to the garage, the damage incurred to the suspension forced him out, leaving him thumping his steering wheel in frustration.
With it went an assault on two other F1 records- falling five short of Michael Schumacher's run of 24 successive results in the points, and unable to now equal the seven times champion's 13 race wins in a single season.
"On the exit of the first corner everything seemed fine, but then turning into the second I could feel that something was odd on the rear right," said Vettel.
"I had to catch the car surprisingly, and then the second time I couldn't do it any more as I'd lost too much air in the tyre.
"When I got back to the pits the resulting suspension damage meant we couldn't carry on.
"There wasn't anything we could have done better really this weekend. We just need to look at what caused the puncture.
"I had a good start and I was very happy with the car up until that point. To lose the race there, so early on, it hurts for sure."
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was unable to offer any clear answer as to what caused Vettel's accident.
"Basically, all we can see from the data is that after a tremendous start into turn one, on the kerb there has been an instantaneous loss of pressure," said Horner.
"So by the time he has arrived at turn two there is no pressure and that has caused the car to spin, and that is what has damaged the suspension.
"At the moment we don't know whether it is a bit of debris from one of the support races because he wasn't particularly high on the kerb or anything like that.
"He just appears to have been unlucky today, but we will now work with the guys from Pirelli to understand what the failure was.
"We need to piece things together from the bits of tyre carcass, the wheel rim, the data and video footage we have.
"The likelihood is the tyre has picked something up, it has cut it and it has lost pressure."
Pirelli have confirmed they are already inspecting the corner with Vettel to see if there are any clues to help them.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said: "Together with Red Bull we're still examining the remains of Sebastian's tyre in order to try and piece together what happened.
"It certainly seems to be a very unusual incident and we've already been to look at the place with Sebastian.
"There seems to be no reason that is immediately obvious, and the set of tyres was one he had already used for qualifying.
"But until we know for sure, there's no point in speculating."