Sebastian Vettel has moved to play down suggestions that Red Bull Racing has got a better handle on Formula 1's new 2009 regulations than most as the season start approaches apace - but he did admit that his target for the year ahead is to repeat his maiden victory from 2008.

The German became the youngest grand prix-winner in the sport's 59-year official history when he triumphed for Scuderia Toro Rosso at Monza last September aged just 21 years and 74 days, stunning the paddock with a flawless drive in treacherous conditions and in an unfancied car to boot. It was only his 22nd start in the top flight.

That earned Vettel promotion to the Red Bull 'senior' squad for his second full campaign at the pinnacle of international motorsport, and since its debut at Jerez early last month, the new, Adrian Newey-penned and Renault powered RB5 has certainly been turning heads during pre-season testing - and not only for its looks.

Indeed, some are already contending that the Milton Keynes-born challenger will turn out to be the surprise of the season - and the car that finally secures RBR its breakthrough from midfield runner into genuine contender in its fifth year of competition.

"It's a very good impression so far," confirmed the man from Heppenheim, speaking to the official F1 website. "It is still not one hundred per cent, but the car so far is quite reliable, fresh out-of-the-box since we started here in Jerez at the beginning of February. It seems to go better and better.

"Actually, the first feeling was right, as straightaway I was pretty happy with the car's balance. We have had some modifications [since then], but nothing big. For the next test, we will get some new parts but nothing dramatic.

"Our focus right now is to make the car reliable and sort out the small problems that we had. The saying goes that if you want to finish first, first you have to finish, so the paramount factor is reliability - and here we are going according to plan. We are not perfect yet, but we are not far off.

"The most important thing is that the first feeling was right and the performance seems to be decent. Now it is all about making the car reliable, and then we'll see.

"We will not run [KERS - Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems] for at least the first three races. We tested it a lot and we are testing it now, as we need to eliminate all possible uncertainties in case it is an advantage to use it and you need some experience. At the moment I really feel it is difficult to say if it is quicker or not, and one lap is always different compared to a whole race distance.

"Here again the most important thing is reliability, and then you look for an advantage. I see it as a bit critical, because on the one hand the system is fantastic from a technological point-of-view - it is amazing how it works and how much power you get out of it. It is funny to push the button and all of a sudden, you go quicker - you really feel quite strong.

"It is a nice piece of technology, but on the other hand there is so much work involved with it, so much development and so much money. In times when you have a ban on testing during the season, it is difficult to have a system that sucks a lot of money, so you can see it this way or that way.

"From the outside, the cars look distinctively different to last year, so the new things coming will be in the detail. It is difficult to say 'that's a beautiful car' or 'that's an ugly car'. I like the look of our car, it's very special, but in the end it's all about pace.

"There is one thing that is hard to get used to - the very wide front wing. When I am in the car, I don't see it, but every time I step out of the car and see this massive front wing I have something of a 'wow' feeling.

"To judge the performance is still difficult. It is always difficult to judge the times in testing as every team has its own programme. Compared to the others I can say that we have been in good shape, but it's no secret that if you are so far ahead of the others, you were quite a bit lighter than the rest. We know where we are, we know what we're doing - but we don't know about the others. This we will see in Melbourne.

"We [have] made a great leap forward, but I am not saying that we are one of the teams to beat. Racing is always different and we are not the favourites. We are working very hard, and hopefully we will be able to score points from Melbourne on and even some podiums...but these are dreams of the future."

That they may be for now, but Vettel makes little effort to conceal his excitement and anticipation ahead of his new challenge - one that looks likely to cement his reputation as one of F1's very brightest rising stars, and even a potential world champion.

Though he knows the pecking order will not be revealed until all the cars appear on-track together for the first time Down Under in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix at the end of the month, he is clearly hopeful that he will be up at the sharp end, as he invariably was in the latter stages of 2008. As to the future beyond that - well, the future can take care of itself as far as he is concerned.

"Obviously testing has become much more important," underlined the former F3 Euroseries Vice-Champion. "Before it was always somehow possible to do a private test here or there, but now that is history, so you better use the test time you have as efficiently as possible. The pressure is there, no doubt, but nobody is getting nervous or crazy.

"I think everybody knows pretty well what he's got in his pocket. True, we lost track time [with pre-season testing having been affected by so much rain] but then you work with simulations to cushion the deficit. Probably we will see surprises in Melbourne, when you expect more from updates that looked good in simulation but don't deliver on the track.

"The target right now is not to think three years ahead. We are focussed on this season, but anything can happen. We want to do a good job, but it is also an unwritten law in Formula 1 that you are only as good as your last result - and I would be lying if I said my target is not to win. I am here for winning!"



Loading Comments...