x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Title in hand but Sebastian Vettel still has much to race for

Sebastian Vettel’s dominance has seen him close out the title with three races remaining, and he has won the past six consecutive races. Victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would see him equal the modern-era record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.

Why shouldn't Sebastian Vettel smile. He and Red Bull Racing have now won four consecutive driver and manufacturer titles. Christopher Pike / The National
Why shouldn't Sebastian Vettel smile. He and Red Bull Racing have now won four consecutive driver and manufacturer titles. Christopher Pike / The National

In the hierarchic world of Formula One, the king’s crown is a Red Bull Racing baseball cap.

At Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday, Sebastian Vettel made his first public appearance since securing the 2013 world championship.

He wore denim shorts, a Red Bull shirt, a wonderfully wide smile and his blue-and-red crown that bore, as it has for each of the past three seasons and as it will next year also, a prominent No 1 on its bill.

It was four days since the German, 26, crossed the line first at India’s Buddh International Circuit, one day for each of the drivers’ titles he can now display at his home in Switzerland.

On Sunday, Vettel had enjoyed spontaneous celebrations with his team at his hotel near Delhi, although with many of Red Bull’s staff involved in the logistical challenge of transporting an entire garage from India to Abu Dhabi, he conceded “we couldn’t go completely mad”.

The following day, he travelled home where he spent two days with his girlfriend, Hanna Prater, describing it as “fairly quiet” and “not very spectacular”.

Some who follow F1 who would use similar words when attempting to describe the 2013 season.

Vettel’s dominance has seen him close out the title with three races remaining, and he has won the past six consecutive races.

Victory this weekend in the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would see him equal the modern-era record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.

Triumphs in all three races yet to be contested this year would see him equal the all-time record set by Alberto Ascari over two seasons, 1952 and 1953.

“I don’t think we approach the weekend as if there’s nothing to gain,” Vettel said.

“We love what we’re doing. We enjoy the challenge, and that’s why there’s no question as to why we are here and what we have to do. We want to race – race the others as hard as possible.

“If we have a chance, we want to win.”

Considering the former Toro Rosso driver has taken pole at four of the past five grands prix and won every race since August’s month-long shutdown, often by a mammoth margin, it is fair to assume the chances are good that he can complete a Yas Marina treble by adding 2013 to his 2009 and 2010 Abu Dhabi race wins.

“To be honest, I’m not getting in the car and thinking there’s a guarantee we will do well,” he said. “Maybe that’s a little bit the impression you get from the outside. Obviously, since the summer break, we’ve won all the races, but we come here and there’s absolutely no guarantee that we will do well. We have to give it everything we have.”

With the Red Bull RB9 remaining so ominously quick and their rivals likely to be focusing more on next season, Vettel’s strongest opponent this weekend could well be his teammate, Mark Webber.

The Australian, 37, has already announced he will quit F1 in December and, without a race win yet this year, is desperate to finish on a high.

The closest Webber has come to victory this season arrived in Malaysia in March, where he was leading with 14 laps remaining and was ordered by the team to turn his engine down to coast home.

Vettel, running in second, was told likewise, but the German defied the order and passed Webber to take his first victory of the season.

The pair’s frosty relationship has shown little sign of warming since, yet Webber is mature enough to accept his teammate has, on the whole, outperformed him.

“I accepted that many times,” he replied when asked if he conceded Vettel is an exceptional talent. “It is not like I am sitting here saying that I’m going to destroy him at every race.

“Seb is very, very good, no question about it, and I am completely comfortable with that.

“But you want the same and best opportunities to show what you can do. That is all you can ask. Obviously, this season has been quite challenging in that respect.”

Webber suggested that such has been the lack of equality at Red Bull, that any comparisons between himself and Vettel should focus on the teammates’ first couple of seasons together rather than the past three.

“Seb’s been the benchmark for a lot of people,” Webber said, “and only time will tell – particularly early on, when we were up against each other, not in the past few years – how I did.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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