Sebastian Vettel has dismissed suggestions that third place in Friday free practice at the Hungaroring somehow symbolises a 'turning point' for the Red Bull team.
More used to winning races from the front, Vettel has had to play second – and sometimes even third or fourth – fiddle behind the runaway Mercedes team, but the tight, twisting nature of the Hungarian Grand Prix venue was always expected to play more to the strengths of the RB10, and he duly underlined that thought by leading the pursuit of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the faster afternoon session.
Asked whether he thought the performance marked a shift change in RBR's battle with the pacesetters, however, Vettel was quick to play down any hope of challenging for pole or the win.
“We still have a lot of stuff to do, a lot of work ahead of us,” he insisted, “The turning point is when we are even [with the pacesetters], which is a very ambitious target.
“I think we could be a little bit closer this weekend, and today at least was a little better. but then again we see that people make a big step from Friday to Saturday, particularly Williams, so we have to hope we can make a big enough step to maintain the pace of today.”
It had been hoped that Red Bull would be closer to the front in Germany last weekend, but the development step expected from engine partner Renault and fuel supplied Total failed to materialise as Rosberg romped to a popular home win and Hamilton carved his way from 20th to third.
“In general, [Renault and Total] are pushing very, very hard,” Vettel admitted, “Obviously, last weekend, we were expecting an upgrade which, unfortunately, didn't happen and simply didn't bring the advantage we were looking for. For tomorrow, we should have a bit of a step, a normal step between Friday and Saturday, which I think is usual down the pit-lane with people running fresher engines and able to use a bit more power. We will have to wait and see where we are tomorrow…”
Red Bulls travails in 2014 – new boy Daniel Ricciardo is the only driver other than the Mercedes duo to stand on the top step of the podium this year – has again prompted speculation that Vettel could be on the move at the end of his contract, with Mercedes, not Ferrari, now the destination of choice.
The four-time world champion is doing his best to defuse the rumours – as is RBR team boss Christian Horner – despite the pair only being tied together for one more season after this.
“That's a weird question for Friday afternoon just after practice,” Vettel remarked when asked what he needed from the RB10 in its remaining nine races in order to remain in Milton Keynes beyond 2015, “I can assure you that, for the last one-and-a-half hours, I didn't think about that.
“Obviously, we've tried to make progress with the car from the beginning of the year and we have
made steps - not one big step, but small steps, and now we have to continue with these small steps. Obviously, Mercedes is far ahead, but the ambition is still to catch them. It might be difficult in one or a couple of races, but we hope that, towards the end of the season, we'll [see an improvement].”