Abu Dhabi: World champion Sebastian Vettel is so utterly dominating Formula One that few will bet against him winning a seventh straight race and 11th this year at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.
Vettel clinched his fourth straight world title at the Indian GP last weekend to enhance his standing as one of the F1 greats.
The German has won an incredible 10 of 16 races so far, and has shaded second-placed Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso almost to irrelevancy with just three races left.
But that won't quell Vettel's desire for more success.
His consistency has been such that he has secured either pole position or second place on the grid in the past eight races, and only once has qualified lower than third all season—a ninth at the Chinese GP in April.
That rare setback is a distant memory and, given his phenomenal consistency in qualifying and on race day, there appears little to stop Vettel from with another win at the Yas Marina circuit, where he clinched his first world title in 2010.
While Vettel's first was a fraught, hard-fought affair on a tense day, his fourth has been a breeze.
After a mediocre start, Vettel pulled away in August with a superb win at the Belgian GP—responding to Lewis Hamilton's brilliant drive at the Hungarian GP before the summer break—and he has not looked back.
He leads two-time former champion Alonso by 115 points and 2007 champ Kimi Raikkonen by 139 -- massive leads, even by Vettel's standards.
Touted to be Vettel's main contender after his impressive win from pole in Budapest, Hamilton trails by 153 and has managed only one podium—a third—since his victory in the searing heat of the Hungaroring.
“For some people it may have looked easier than maybe any of the previous titles, because we had an advance,” Vettel said. “For us there was never the luxury of leaning back just because we might know how to win a title.”
The talk of who could challenge Vettel quickly dissipated, replaced with predictions of how far Vettel can go in his already remarkable career in a dominant Red Bull team that also clinched the constructors' title last weekend for the fourth straight year.
“Everyone works for each other within the team with a common vision and one desire: To keep winning,” team principal Christian Horner said. “The success that we have is a result of having tasted success before. It's almost like a drug.”
Having matched Alain Prost's total of four F1 titles, only Juan Manuel Fangio, with five, and Vettel's countryman Michael Schumacher, the record holder with seven who also won five straight from 2000-2004, remain ahead of him.
“It is very hard to realize all of this,” Vettel said. “At the same time you are very glad that no one can take this away from you again.”
At 26, Vettel has time and the most reliable car on his side.
“I'm not that old yet and to achieve that in such a short amount of time is very difficult to grasp,” Vettel said. “To win four titles, I don't know, it's just a big number, you know?”
The only drawback of Vettel's season has been some jeering he's received on the podium, notably at last month's Italian GP where he was heckled by Ferrari tifosi.
“Unfortunately nowadays the world is ticking so quickly that people are not always listening exactly to what I'm saying or what I'm trying to say,” Vettel said. “I don't blame the people that booed, you know. If I go to the football stadium, for example, I cheer for the home team.”
The Abu Dhabi GP is the only race of the year that starts in the late afternoon and ends in the evening, providing the drivers and teams with a unique challenge and the audience with a breathtaking spectacle.
“Especially during twilight when you get some really nice footage and pictures,” Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “The track is pretty tricky and technical, especially the last sector which has a lot of twisty, 90-degree corners.”
The temperature range the Pirelli tires will experience is very different, as unlike most other races track temperature falls as the race goes on, rather than rises.
“Teams are able to do longer runs even on the softer compound later in the race,” Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said. “It's often possible to try something different, which might well pay off.”