It might have taken him six races to do it, but Sebastian Vettel was ebullient after regaining the top step of the rostrum following Sunday's European Grand Prix - and starting to sense that the F1 2010 title fight could be boiling down to a two-horse duel between Red Bull Racing and McLaren-Mercedes.

In the wake of his contentious Turkish Grand Prix collision with team-mate Mark Webber in Istanbul last month, Vettel had become something of the black sheep of the F1 fraternity - and the momentum inside the RBR garage seemed to be firmly on the side of the in-form Australian. However, pole position in Valencia and a commanding triumph 24 hours later have vaulted the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner firmly into the reckoning once more as the chase for the crown hits the halfway mark.

"It's good to be back winning and on a circuit where we didn't expect to be that strong," the German reflected. "It is about time, I would say! It hasn't been the easiest [season] so far, but what happened, happened - we cannot change it. We were quick enough at all times in the race to pull away, build a gap and then guide the car home. Looking at the first stint and then after the re-start, when we were in the 'pushing' mode, let's say, I was very happy and the pace seemed to be very strong and we were able to pull away at two or three tenths a lap.

"I thought I had a very good initial launch, and then I saw in the mirrors Mark and Lewis [Hamilton] fighting. I think Lewis passed him right away, and then into Turn One I saw that Lewis was quite late on the brakes on the inside, so I tried to give as much room as I could. Once you set your braking-point it is difficult to react and say 'okay, I will delay it'. It was closer than I expected, closer than I wanted, but there wasn't much I could have done to go further to the left.

"I think we touched, [but] I was quite lucky. I felt the hit in Turn Two; what I was most afraid of was that his front wing had touched my rear tyre and given me a puncture, but a couple of corners later I could feel there was nothing wrong with the car and everything was alright. I think he (Hamilton) hit the inside kerb a little bit, so there is not much you can do. When I came back in after the race and stopped the car I saw that the right-hand-side floor was damaged a little bit, but it didn't seem to make that great a difference

"After that I was very happy with the car, and I pulled away and managed a very good gap. I tried to manage the tyres and I have to say the 'Options' at the start worked really, really well - I did not try to push too hard [because] you don't know the reaction after five or ten laps, but I never got the feeling that they were dropping away, and balance-wise I was extremely happy.

"I was a bit afraid when I saw the safety car boards, as I was just on the main straight and I thought 'this will be tough as the cars that follow might get a stop for free' - 20 seconds or ten seconds earlier and I would have been able to react right, but I was lucky that the first couple of cars were in the same situation that I was and I think we managed it well.

"The re-start was tight again and after the safety car I had a huge lock-up into last corner trying to brake as late as I could. I was trying to defend and probably was a little bit too late, plus I underestimated the tyre temperature at that stage - after the pit stop and when you go around slowly, you never really have the chance to bring the tyres up to temperature. They were colder than I expected, but I could stay in front.

"After that I had a bit of a front-right flat-spot, but it was alright. Obviously [there were] a lot of laps to do, but I never really tried to push hard because I didn't want to do anything stupid. When I got the message that Lewis [Hamilton] had to go to the pits to get his drive-through, I could adjust the pace and backed off a bit. It is good to get a lot of points. It is good for the championship, and I'm very pleased. I think the guys can be extremely proud. It was another tough weekend for them [with] very little sleep, but it pays off."

That it undoubtedly did, and acknowledging that the F-duct fitted to the Adrian Newey-designed RB6 for the first time in race conditions in Valencia was 'a big benefit if you manage to set it up right' - if 'not the most comfortable thing' - Vettel went on to praise the design of modern-day F1 machinery following Webber's terrifying accident that resembled more the Red Bull Air Race than a grand prix.

"Motorsport is dangerous," the 22-year-old underlined. "It's what is written on every ticket. From the public point-of-view, many times it's been criticised that F1 is boring compared to the past, that nothing happens now and so on - but sometimes it's close and I think on days like this you get reminded that the speeds are still extremely high and if something goes wrong it can go terribly wrong, so you should never lose respect. I think that as a racing driver today, you need the same qualities as 30 or 50 years ago. You need to deliver, you need to be fast, you need to be brave and get everything together.

"Obviously when we go out there we go hard, we go racing, so we try our best and try to overtake the car in front. Mark had quite a big shunt, but the most important thing is that he's fine - it shows that the cars get safer and safer, but still there is a lot of risk so it's good that he's okay."

Looking further ahead, the Heppenheim native mused that whilst the upcoming two circuits - Silverstone and Hockenheim - should on paper suit the RB6 down to the ground, and certainly far more than Valencia, he is refusing to make any predictions given the entirely unpredictable nature of F1 2010 thus far. What he does admit, however, is that Red Bull will carry on pushing to the limit all the way to the end in their quest for title glory.

"We hope that the next couple of circuits are more in our direction," he recognised, "but everyone is pushing hard, bringing updates, so we need to see what steps the other teams make. We know what we have in our hands and I think naturally our car suits those kinds of tracks, but we still need to go out there and get the job done, working well at the weekend, managing the tyres, finding the pace and everything. We will keep our heads down and focus, because even though the car sometimes suits the track, you might not face the easiest type of weekend.

"[Silverstone] is our home grand prix. I think it is more-or-less everybody's home grand prix, but it is good for the team. We had a sensational race weekend last year, and we will try to repeat that. It's a tough job and you need to be there all the time - two races can change a lot. Obviously in terms of team ranking, McLaren had a very good run in the last two races with two one-two finishes. Looking at how it looks now, if you look at the points only, I think it's between us and McLaren, but still Ferrari made a step forward this weekend.

"There's no time to rest, [because] they will come back, there's no question about that. It will be tight. At the moment it probably looks as if Mercedes are losing out a little bit, but even they can play a role if they have a very strong car at the end. We will see. It's not even half-time, so there's a long way to go."

Vettel's showing around the harbourside streets of Valencia's Juan Carlos I Marina, finally, clearly impressed Red Bull Racing's team principal Christian Horner, with the Englishman effusive about his prot?g?'s return to form following a run of ill-fortune and inconsistency.

"Sebastian drove a very mature race and controlled his pace perfectly," he affirmed. "After some bad luck recently, this result will be a boost for his confidence. Also, congratulations to all members of the team for the relentless hard work that is getting performance to the car at each race. We now look forward to Silverstone in two weeks' time."


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