Sebastian Vettel has revealed that he is unaffected by the increased pressure and weight of expectation that he finds himself under heading towards F1 2010 as one of the outright title favourites - and that if anything, he simply feels 'proud' of his higher status within the paddock.

With just 26 grand prix starts under his belt for Scuderia Toro Rosso and BMW-Sauber - yielding 41 points - Vettel began 2009 with Red Bull Racing as a highly-rated young talent and undoubtedly regarded as a star of the future and world champion-in-the-making, but few genuinely expected the German to challenge for glory in only his second full season at the highest level.

That he did speaks volumes for the 22-year-old's pace, ability and maturity - and as he prepares now to start his third campaign in F1, Vettel is ranked alongside the likes of world champions Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and his legendary, record-breaking compatriot Michael Schumacher as one of the leading contenders to clinch the coveted drivers' crown in 2010. Having come only eleven points short of doing so last year, it is a tag that the affable Heppenheim native bears comparatively easily.

"It is true that the expectations are higher from the outside," he told German newspaper the Salzburger Nachrichten. "It's something I can also be proud of. Our position as one of the favourites this year is down to our achievements of 2009.

"However, there is no time to rest. You must once again prove yourself in each test, in each round. To become world champion was my goal last year and that will again be the case this year. Whether the pressure comes from the outside, I don't really care."

In the hands of Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber, the Red Bull Racing RB6 topped the timing screens on two of the four days during the pre-season group test at Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain last week, and whilst the reliability of the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered machine does not yet appear to be bullet-proof, the car is clearly quick - and Vettel warns rivals Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes and Mercedes Grand Prix that there remains 'more to come' between now and the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in just over a fortnight's time.

"Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and ourselves are at the front," he acknowledged, "but everything will probably be very close. Ferrari have looked pretty strong so far. However, all teams will make improvements to their car before the start of the season, so there is more to come."



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