NASCAR

2013 season could be Sebastian Vettel's best ever

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP)

When Sebastian Vettel eventually retires from Formula One, this season may be remembered as his best.

Next year's championship figures to be a more level playing field as teams and drivers get to grips with new, less powerful engines, and the impending regulation changes could somewhat negate Red Bull's current superiority.

Vettel won Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with ease, and the German can set a season record with an eighth straight win at the United States GP. If he then wins the season-ending Brazilian GP, he would equal Michael Schumacher's record of 13 wins in a season.

''Sebastian has really hit a purple patch of form, and he is certainly driving better than I have ever seen,'' Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. ''The team has total trust in Sebastian and I think he has total trust in the team.''

The 26-year-old Vettel is eyeing the career record of nine consecutive wins, achieved by Italian driver Alberto Ascari over the 1952-53 seasons.

''I knew that any kind of record you talk about, Michael is involved for sure,'' Vettel said after winning the Abu Dhabi GP by more than 30 seconds. ''The guys you talk about are the most special drivers in the world in Formula One. I don't think I'm old enough to realize.''

Red Bull has been so dominant and reliable that the drivers' and constructors' titles were clinched with three races to spare.

''I think it is still a bit difficult to understand what is going on with us this season,'' Vettel said.

Everyone else understands, however, particularly his struggling rivals.

Vettel leads Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso by 130 points, while Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen is third overall, 164 behind, and Lewis Hamilton trails by 172. They are all former champions, and have mustered only four wins between them this year.

''We don't yet have the car to compete with Red Bull,'' Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said.

Alonso's season has been reduced to helping Ferrari battle with Mercedes for second place in the constructors' championship.

''We absolutely must do better and finish the last two races on the podium,'' the Spaniard said after finishing fifth on Sunday.

Vettel beat Alonso by four points to win his first title in 2010, with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber only 14 points behind in third.

In 2011, he crushed the competition, beating Jenson Button by 122 points and Webber by 134.

Vettel is on course to surpass his winning margin from two years ago, especially as he seems to be improving as the season goes on.

''We said it would be very difficult to repeat a season like that and maybe it comes across once in a lifetime,'' Vettel said. ''Now, we can probably say it came across twice at least.''

He described Sunday's win as ''close to perfect'' and ''a very luxurious feeling'' as he started from second on the grid and overtook Webber on the first turn.

Although Vettel insists that he is ''not going out there for the statistics'' when he races, they just keep piling up and four more wins will see him equal Ayrton Senna's total of 41.

''Please stop mentioning these kinds of things because it makes you realize a little bit what it means,'' Vettel said. ''It is nice when you once in a while hear that you've done this or that, but it is not my core interest and doesn't make me jump for excitement.''

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