Shanghai: Sebastian Vettel showed how quickly he has learned the etiquette of Formula One favourites on Thursday, talking up his rivals and leaving absolutely no hostages to fortune ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
After a dominant performance to lead a Red Bull one-two in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago, the 22-year-old arrived in China as the clear frontrunner for the fourth round of the season, a race he won last year to give his team their maiden victory.
“We know we have a very good car but the other teams are always improving,” the German told reporters at the Shanghai International Circuit.
“There’s a very, very long straight here so McLaren could be quite strong again. Some people are saying some of the teams are bringing new parts.
“For sure, it will be tough to beat (team mate) Mark Webber again and then you’ve got all the others again, Ferraris, McLarens, Mercedes as well ...
“It’s not easy to deliver all the time. In the end you have to get the best out of your package and to be consistent as possible.”
A lack of reliability robbed Vettel of likely victories in the opening two rounds of the season.
He also pointed out that McLaren and Ferrari’s misjudgement of the weather in Malaysian qualifying had distorted the starting grid.
“It’s not like we have a massive advantage like teams had five years ago,” he added.
“In Malaysia, we were in a luxurious position because some of the quick teams failed in qualifying, so I think the race would have been a different if we had all started at the front.”
Vettel is third in the drivers’ standings, two points behind Felipe Massa, while Red Bull trail Massa’s Ferrari and McLaren in the constructor’s race.
A second successive victory in China would guarantee Vettel the lead in the drivers’ title race for the first time in his career but he pointed to the standings as evidence that he and his team were still pursuing the traditional powerhouses.
“If you look at the world championship ranking, there is no gap, we are behind the others,” he said.
“We have to catch up. I hope that if we keep going as we have done in the last race, we can catch the others.”
Formula One drivers are used to engine problems but Vettel confronted one earlier in the week than usual when his flight from Zurich on Tuesday was delayed for five hours after one of the engines failed on the runway.
“At least it was 20 seconds before take-off and not during the flight,” he shrugged.