Sebastian Vettel admits that it will be special to equal the late Ayrton Senna's haul of 41 grand prix victories, but has stopped short of expecting the honour to come at this weekend's race in China.
The German moved to within one win of Senna with his unexpected success in Malaysia two weeks ago, but acknowledges that 'a couple of circumstances coming together' helped to defeat the Mercedes drivers a fortnight after Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had run away with the opening round in Australia.
While Ferrari appears to have established itself as Mercedes' main rival after two races in 2015, Vettel refused to get carried away with expectation of further victories this early in the season, preferring to see the Scuderia confirm its potential before predicting trips to the top step of the podium.
“I think that we are realistic about where we are and what we want to achieve,” he noted on the eve of practice at Shanghai International Circuit, “The targets haven't really changed. Obviously, it was a great victory that we had in Malaysia – great for us as a team and, especially for myself, a very emotional day [as it was] my first win for Ferrari. Then, to come back to the factory and see all the people there was quite special. The team hasn't won for quite a while, so I think they enjoyed the fact that they had something to celebrate.
“But, as I said, for the next few races, nothing has changed. We want to confirm that we have a strong package, a strong car, and make sure we stay ahead of the people we stayed ahead of in the last couple of races, but knowing that Mercedes is in a very, very strong position.”
Despite that, the German insists that his Sepang success was not entirely down to luck.
“I think [our pace] was for real two weeks ago,” he claimed, “I don't think Mercedes backed off, or anyone else, so it was nice for us to feel so competitive - but I also think there were a couple of circumstances coming together.
“At the start of the season, things can be up and down and we want to make sure that there is quite a lot of 'up' and not so many 'downs', but it is normal that there are races where you are more competitive than others. As I said, we managed to do a very good job in Malaysia but, for here and the next races, we have to be realistic about what we can achieve.
“I think we have a decent understanding [of where Ferrari stands], but the target is to confirm the fact that we were very close to the top cars in Australia, fighting with Williams for the podium. Obviously, in Sepang two weeks ago, we were very, very close, close enough to win, but we want to establish [ourselves] as the team right behind Mercedes and that means that we stay ahead of strong teams like Williams, Red Bull – not just for one or two races but, ideally, for the whole season. Once we have confirmed that, the target is to ensure that the gap gets closer and closer with Mercedes.”
As for the opportunity to match Senna's numbers, Vettel insisted that he hadn't been aware quite how close he was, but admitted that it was easier for drivers in the modern era to rack up win totals that previously seemed out of reach.
“I know Michael [Schumacher]'s number, but that is just ridiculous!” he grinned, “I think it is very special [to be closing on Senna] – it took me a while to get to 40 and I hope that the next one isn't that far away, but it would certainly mean a lot for any driver.
“That's why I think statistics in this regard are quite nice [but], nowadays, I don't think it is entirely fair to the guys from the past, simply because we have more races. If you go back many years, they only had ten races and then around 13, 14, 15 and only perhaps in the last ten years has it ramped up to around 20 races in a season, which obviously increases your chances of winning more races.”