Vettel looking bolster title hopes
With the controversy over Mercedes' in-season testing settled, the focus this weekend shifts to the British Grand Prix and three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel's bid to win yet another title.
Coming off the Canadian Grand Prix in which he beat Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by 14 seconds, Vettel has shaken off some early season headaches with tires and his Red Bull team seems ready to dominate. Already the youngest world champion, the 25-year-old German has a chance to match the exploits of F1 greats Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher by winning four drivers' championship titles in a row.
But it won't be easy. The often rain-soaked circuit at Silverstone has not been kind to Vettel in recent years. He has only won here once in 2009 on what is essentially the team's home track — it's located 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Red Bull's factory in Milton Keynes — and had to watch his teammate Mark Webber claim the victory two of the past three years.
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''Apart from the unpredictable English weather, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is a highlight of the season and one of my favorite tracks,'' Vettel said. ''The circuit's a real challenge. Even after the paddock and pit lane conversion, it remains a tough track. Only Suzuka can be compared to Silverstone. No other track on the calendar has such a sequence of superfast corners like Silverstone does.''
After his win in Canada earlier this month, Vettel was careful not to get ahead of himself in the championship race.
Noting that he came from behind last year to win, he said anything was possible with 12 races remaining and his lead over Alonso only 36 points. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen is another eight points back in third and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is another 11 points behind in fourth.
''The championship is still long and obviously I was in a different position last year at this time and I was able to catch up quite a lot toward the end,'' Vettel said after his victory in Montreal. ''I had very strong races. Fernando was a little bit unlucky here and there and we were able to beat him, so we were able to come back but this was ten races from where we are now so I think there are so many things that can happen at that stage of the championship.''
At this time last year, Alonso came into the British GP with the momentum. He had won the Europe Grand Prix and left Silverstone leading the championship standings after finishing second. But he never won another race in 2012 and Vettel went on a tear, winning four straight races at one point on his way to claiming the title.
Alonso has done well to keep pace with Vettel this season — winning twice and finishing second twice. But there is a sense the team should be doing better with its much-improved car and that it risks allowing the title to slip away without more wins.
Raikkonen is confident he can end a poor run that saw the Finn finish ninth in Canada and 10th in Monaco to dent his title chances.
''There's no reason why we shouldn't be back to the positions we should be with this package,'' the 2007 F1 champion said.
''We just have to be patient, do our very best over the entire weekend and step-by-step we can start catching the leaders. Silverstone is all about long sweeping high-speed corners and high down force levels,'' he said. ''It's one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. It's very challenging and the flowing corners are pretty good fun to drive. Hopefully our new parts will help us particularly in the faster corners. If that's the case, it could be a good weekend.''
Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg will be just happy to get back to racing after the in-season testing controversy.
The team and drivers were cleared last week, escaping with a reprimand for violating rules on testing. There were fears that Mercedes could be heavily fined, barred from races or docked points for providing Pirelli, the sport's sole tire supplier, with its 2013 car for the tire tests in Barcelona.
The panel did bar the German team from joining other F1 competitors at a planned three-day test session for young drivers in July which Hamilton described as putting the team ''on the back foot a little'' because it had planned to test new equipment.
''Of course, when I saw the team at the weekend everyone was relieved they could get on and start focusing on the next race,'' he said.
''So I'm happy as well. The team have been doing a great job,'' he said. ''We got it to a good position so far. If we can get it even better, that would be fantastic. They have been working so far to get the results we had. A negative result was not needed.''
Hamilton, who switched this season from McLaren to Mercedes, has surprised the critics with a strong showing in several races — including three podium finishes. The 28-year-old Brit capped off a memorable season in 2008 by winning the race at Silverstone on the way to his lone title.