F1 2011 World Champion-elect Sebastian Vettel has been warmly praised by two of his title rivals, with Fernando Alonso lauding him as 'the best driver' of the season and the architect of some 'perfect' performances, and Lewis Hamilton conceding that the Red Bull Racing ace 'has really driven very, very well' and that 'his persona, his attitude have been very professional'.
Vettel is making a big point of refusing to count his chickens before they are hatched on the eve of this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix, even though – should the cards fall his way – he could clinch the crown under the Marina Bay spotlights [to see how, click here
]. The 24-year-old is adamant that he will be approaching the race just like any other – and insists he does not feel under any extra pressure in view of the fact that the laurels can be mathematically put beyond reach in three days' time.
“So far, we haven't won anything,” he is quoted as having said by BBC Sport
. “[There is] still some way to go; we have to race and do our best. It is a long way to the chequered flag. Certain things have to happen, and it reminds me a little bit of the situation we had in Abu Dhabi last year, when people came up and gave me another option [as to how he could win the title] every five minutes. The target is to optimise our performance. The target has been to defend our title; there is no reason why the target should change.
“There is always pressure on us because we want to achieve our best every weekend – and if there is a chance to win, we want to go for it. I don't feel any extra pressure trying to win the championship here or [in] any one particular place. The target going into the season was not to win the championship by Singapore or any other race – it was to win the championship. This race is as important as anywhere else.”
Vettel took a solid step towards a successful defence of his hard-fought F1 2010 drivers' trophy with a superb Italian Grand Prix triumph at Monza a fortnight ago – his eighth from just 13 starts this year – and along the way, he silenced those who said he cannot overtake or fight his way through the field with a gutsy pass on Alonso during which he put two wheels on the grass at over 200mph on the outside of Curva Grande after the Ferrari star 'squeezed' him. The incident prompted a brief post-race discussion between the pair.
“He didn't expect me to go on the left, to try the inside for the second chicane, so initially he didn't see me,” reflected Vettel, denying that he had asked Monza stewards to investigate Alonso's driving, “but as soon as he saw me, he pulled to the right and gave me enough room. It was borderline, but I knew if I wanted to get past, I needed to try something.
“Actually, it was more critical the lap before when I was on the right on the outside at the second chicane and he moved a little bit under braking to the right and there wasn't much room for me, but we talked about it after the race and I think it's fine. Generally, if you race people like Fernando, people with a lot of experience and who you respect a lot, you can really push the limits and really go wheel-to-wheel without thinking about it, and know the guy will know you are there and give you just enough room – not a lot, but enough.”
Vettel and Alonso raced in similarly close company in last year's Singapore Grand Prix, with the Spaniard narrowly holding the German off en route
to his fourth victory of the campaign. Twelve months on and at 112 points adrift of the defending world champion in the drivers' standings, Alonso could find himself knocked out of the title hunt in the far-eastern city-state – but if Vettel wins, he muses, then he will fully merit his success.
“He's been the best driver, [with] the best team,” acknowledged the 30-year-old, pipped to world championship honours by Vettel in the 2010 Abu Dhabi finale. “They deserve to be where they are. This year, he has made no mistakes or very few mistakes. Last year, we had a [few] more chances. Red Bull were also very dominant last year, but they had some trouble in some races. I remember in Turkey they crashed together, and in some other races they had mechanical failures, engine problems...