Sebastian Vettel insists that he will start the 2012 F1 season as favourite to clinch a third straight crown, but admits that he will need to be as fuelled by the passion to succeed as he was in 2010 and 2011.
The German revealed that he wishes F1 wasn't quite as professional as it is, almost pining for a time when drivers weren't reined quite as tightly by their teams and designers similarly constrained by the rulebook, but accepts that those are boundaries in which he and his peers now have to operate. Speaking to Britain's Guardian newspaper at the end of last week's Barcelona group test, Vettel conceded that he would be viewed by most as the man most likely to succeed again in 2012, but pointed out that a lot of things have to fall into place to make it happen.
"Generally, the one who wins it the year before is usually among the favourites the next season," he noted, before reflecting on an ultra-successful 2011 campaign, "We had a fantastic year [and] you don't have this kind of season very often. Even if you look at the seasons Michael [Schumacher] had when dominating, we did something special.
"Last year was nearly faultless and, if I see the steps the team has taken from 2009 to 2010 and then from 2010 to 2011, it's incredible. I think, last year, we didn't have a car as strong as 2010 – but we were stronger as a team. There were a couple of occasions where we made mistakes. Fridays have been poor - I made mistakes, I crashed the car - [but] we got the concentration back when it mattered. On Fridays, you only have a couple of hours to prepare the car, so we can improve on that. We had a meeting in January and went over the things that we need to do better and you would be surprised. It was a long list. There were lots of points to improve."
Despite winning eleven times and taking 15 poles from 19 races, however, Vettel also insists that he needs to feel the urge to compete in order to be successful.
"Statistics are not important, [although] it's great when people remind you of this or that, but that's not why we are racing," he maintained, "It's the same as every other job, isn't it. You need passion to succeed. Yes, being a racing driver is a special job but, generally, if you don't like what you do, then you're not going to be very good. You will face a point inside you where you think 'is this the right thing?' [or] why am I doing this?'
"If you go to work every morning just because you need a cheque at the end of the month, it's not great. Money can be a motivation, but it will never make you happy. Obviously, racing in F1, all of us are very fortunate because we're doing something we loved as a child and now it's our job – and we earn good money. So, for us, as drivers, it's great. And when you're successful it becomes even better."
His 'passion' is also what drives him to remain with the engineers long after the day's action has finished, be it during testing or race weekends.
"I would feel bad if I left early," he explained, "Just because you know how to win a championship doesn't mean you forget all the small steps you take. I've just finished my debrief with the team and I could go off for dinner, but I won't. If the engine pops in a race, I would feel bad and think maybe it was because I was lazy and didn't push 100 per cent. If I make a mistake, okay, it happens - as long as I've done everything to be at the top of my game, then I'm all right. That's why I'm happy to work late."