Red Bull driver again looms as the man to beat at the United States Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel will be focused on records and reconciliation this weekend when he seeks an eighth consecutive victory of the season at the United States Grand Prix.
The newly-crowned four-time drivers world champion will overhaul fellow-German Michael Schumacher’s all-time Formula One record if he is triumphant again at the Circuit of the Americas.
Seven-time champion Schumacher set his mark of seven wins in the 2004 season for Ferrari and will be among the first to congratulate Vettel, 26, if he records another victory.
Only Italian Alberto Ascari has a better record, winning nine consecutive races during the world championship’s Formula Two era in 1952-53.
Vettel began his winning run at the Belgian Grand Prix in August and has accumulated 11 this year.
Two more wins, in Texas and then in Sao Paulo, would lift him level with Schumacher’s record of 13 in a season, again set in 2004.
But Vettel, whose competitive instincts remain undimmed by his serial success, may have one eye also on soothing his oft-strained relationship with Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber.
Webber will retire from Formula One after the final event in Brazil – to be replaced by fellow-Aussie Daniel Ricciardo – and will hope to bow out with a smile, if not on a high.
He admitted recently that he felt that Vettel was “in another category” and the German responded, ahead of this week’s penultimate event, by acknowledging how much respect he has for his partner.
“We’ve always had respect on the track when we’ve been fighting each other,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve lacked respect. We’ve respected each other inside the car and the other’s abilities.
“As team-mates for the last five years we’ve got to know each other very, very well. That means I know his strengths and I know…not his weaknesses, but corners where I might have an advantage for instance, and vice versa.
“It has always been very close, maybe closer than people remember, and I’ve appreciated that, so therefore I have enormous respect for him.
“Being honest, if you look back, we’ve not had the best relationship on a personal level.
“At the end of the day we’ve been very successful for the team, winning four constructors’ championships in a row, always scoring enough points for the team.”
Vettel made little of the furore that surrounded his decision to disobey team orders and snatch victory ahead of Webber earlier this year in Malaysia.
That omission could hint that he is prepared to repay a debt before the season ends, if the circumstances allow, by helping Webber win again before he leaves to go sportscar racing with Porsche.
The gritty Australian would love to take his 10th Formula One Grand Prix win in his own style, of course, but is hardly likely to refuse a gift in an event that delighted all visitors a year ago.
In that race, Briton Lewis Hamilton was in sparkling form and claimed a victory that he described as ‘one of my best ever’ with McLaren, the team he left behind to join Mercedes this year.
His replacement at McLaren Mexican Sergio Perez has not worked out and the 23-year-old annojhnced on Wednesday he will be leaving at the end of the season so like Webber he will be hungry to finish the season positively — his goal to persuade a team to take him on for next year.
He will be one of the leading contenders to end Vettel’s victory run this weekend in Texas where Lotus will be without Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who is undergoing back surgery before leaving for Ferrari. His place is likely to go to compatriot Heikki Kovalinen after German Nico Hulkenberg turned down the opportunity.