Nice guys don't win, so the saying goes - but Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner begs to differ with that assessment, contending that heading into F1 2010, Sebastian Vettel is now 'the complete driver' and ready to mount an all-out assault on title glory and that to top it off, the young German remains 'very down-to-earth' and wholly unaffected by the spoils of his success.

Vettel is widely considered to be one of the leading challengers for the laurels this year, off the back of a season that saw him emerge as Jenson Button's closest world championship rival and cemented his achievements as a multiple grand prix-winner, with triumphs in China - Red Bull's breakthrough victory at the highest level - Britain, Japan and Abu Dhabi.

What's more, the energy drinks-backed outfit ended 2009 as incontrovertibly the team to beat, and on the basis of pre-season testing at least, the Adrian Newey-penned, Renault-powered RB6 looks to be nip-and-tuck with Ferrari's F10 for the honour of being the early pace-setter in 2010 too.

That being the case, this time around Vettel might not need to play catch-up as he did in the wake of Button's dominant run of six wins from the first seven grands prix twelve months ago - earning the Briton a commanding initial advantage. Twelve months on, you just sense, it could well be the man from Heppenheim who comes out of the starting blocks the fastest in Bahrain on Sunday afternoon.

"Sebastian has all the makings of a champion," Horner is quoted as having said by Planet-F1. "It's still very early to say, and ultimately he has to go out and do it, but he is a very intelligent driver, tremendously talented, has a high work ethic and is a very dedicated and focussed individual.

"Most of all, he is a nice guy as well [and] a very popular member of the team because he is very down-to-earth. Success hasn't changed him. His rise to stardom has been meteoric so far, and he is improving, evolving and growing. He is a remarkable character, but I see a very hungry and determined young man. Now with two full years' experience and a championship campaign under his belt, I think he goes into this year pretty much the complete driver."

That 'down-to-earth' streak extends as far as Vettel choosing to give each of his cars in F1 a girl's name, with his first Scuderia Toro Rosso being baptised Julie, his Red Bull RB5 at the beginning of 2009 Kate and - when he all-but wrote that model off in a late-race coming-together with the BMW-Sauber of Robert Kubica in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne - Kate was replaced by Kate's Dirty Sister...because, the 22-year-old reasoned, she was faster and more aggressive than her predecessor. And his new RB6? Luscious Liz...

"Bernie has really warmed to him," Horner went on, referring to the sport's influential commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone, who has confessed that Vettel is 'exactly what Formula 1 needs' and that if he 'could design a superstar, Sebastian would be the result' [see separate story - click here].

"He appreciates his cheeky personality, and he is very quick-witted like Bernie, which isn't a normal trait for a German. He is very un-Germanic. He understands British humour brilliantly. He'll regularly watch Monty Python, Little Britain and Harry Enfield sketches, and he is a very good mimic.

"With Bernie, he likes the way Sebastian drives, and he likes the way he handles himself. He is always willing to sign autographs, and as an ambassador for Formula 1he is fantastic."

The one thing missing from Vettel's repertoire, of course, is the drivers' world championship trophy - but having already made history in becoming the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner, aged just 21 years and 74 days when he took the chequered flag for STR in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, that too is surely only a matter of time.

One man he will need to defeat if he is to prevail in 2010 is a little-known Michael Schumacher, returning to the fray following three years in 'retirement' and a driver to whom many suggest Vettel is a natural successor - but Horner insists comparisons between the pair, 19 years apart in age, are futile.

"He was still in nappies when Michael was making his grand prix debut," underlined the Englishman, a former racer himself. "They are different characters. Sebastian is Sebastian, his own man, and he will continue to grow into being his own person. He is not a mini-Schumi. He has a great deal of respect for Michael and what he has achieved, and off-track they are good friends - but on-track he will race him as hard as any other competitor."


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