Three-time F1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart believes that Sebastian Vettel has some way still to go before he can be considered a giant of the sport, despite the German appearing poised to match the Scot's title haul this season.
Stewart's three crowns were secured over a five-year stretch, between 1969-73, but he had been in F1 for four years before his first title. Vettel, by contrast, is on course to secure his third championship in as many years, having made his F1 debut in 2007, but Stewart reckons that he still needs to prove himself in adversity before he could be considered amongst F1's greats.
"If you've got a superior car, it's relatively easy to win the championship,” the opinionated Scot told BBC Sport
, "I have the highest respect for Sebastian, but he could not have achieved what he has without the Adrian Newey factor. To really show you're one of the greatest, you have to deliver when you haven't got the best machinery."
Vettel may point out that, for part of 2012 at least, he was playing catch up to McLaren's MP4-27, while chasing Fernando Alonso's points advantage, built up in a reliably consistent, if not outright fastest, Ferrari.
After last weekend's Korean GP, however, the German moved back to the head of the standings, having won three races in a row and exhibited a clear performance advantage from the reworked RB8.
"I'm a big Sebastian Vettel fan," Stewart insisted, "He completely dominated the Korean Grand Prix and drove in such a mature fashion for a 25-year old. It was more than impressive but, led by Adrian Newey, Red Bull has bounced back from a slow start to the season and has now come up with superior equipment. Vettel has established himself as the favourite and Alonso is now on the back foot."
Such is Red Bull's apparent dominance at present, Stewart also dismissed Monday's suggestions that Vettel would be joining Ferrari for 2014. Suggestions that the German's agreement contained performance-related clauses that needed to be achieved by the Scuderia now appear wide of the mark, with Red Bull, instead, needing to reach prescribed standards in order to keep its hold on Vettel through the final year of his current deal.
"He would be mad to leave Red Bull at the present time,” Stewart said of the German, "I know there would be a difference in their basic salary, but he's in a position where he's winning grands prix.
"He's won 25 races and is going to knock me off my perch before the end of the season - but he's only
25 and still has time to move."