A fourth straight world championship title beckons for Sebastian Vettel if he underlines his dominance in Asia with grand prix victories in South Korea on Sunday and Japan the following week.
No other driver has been as successful as the 26-year-old German on Asian tracks, and the Red Bull driver could even seal the Formula One drivers’ title if results go his way in the next two races.
Vettel has built up a formidable 60-point lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who has not quite conceded the 2013 title race but is looking forward to new challenge with a fresh set of rules and a new team-mate in Kimi Raikkonen next season.
“Obviously we have to be realistic. A few races to go already, the gap is still increasing every weekend and now it’s 60 points,” Alonso said.
“We need to be honest with ourselves and knowing that we need a lot of luck. We don’t need luck in Korea; we need luck in Korea, in Japan, in India, in Abu Dhabi. We need luck every weekend if we are one second off the pace.” It would be possible for Vettel to clinch the title if he wins in Yeongam on Sunday and Suzuka a week later, provided Alonso scores no more than 10 points. The last four races in India, Abu Dhabi, Texas and Sao Paolo would then have no further bearing on the title.
Vettel, whose victory in Singapore two weeks ago was his seventh in 13 races, has been the dominant driver on Asian circuits, with 19 of his 33 grand prix victories in Asia. That is six more than both seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and Alonso.
Vettel is seeking a third successive win in Yeongam where he last year led a Red Bull one-two ahead of Mark Webber, with Alonso third.
Vettel’s domination has led to boos at recent podium ceremonies, which has been condemned by the team and other drivers. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it was “unfair” of a deserved world champion.
Horner though would like Vettel to wrap up the title — and Red Bull the constructors’ title — as soon as possible.
“Our approach is one race at a time, the next challenge is Korea — to get the most out of that venue — and then after that obviously Suzuka. If we keep doing that then the championship tables tend to take care of themselves,” he said.
“We’ve had two bloody close ones (title races) that I don’t want to go through again. Brazil last year I’ve now got several grey hairs from, Abu Dhabi two years’ earlier was about as stressful as you could get.
“The most important thing is winning. We’re trying to defend both titles and our job is to try to do that as soon as possible. It’s not our responsibility to take it to the last race, which hopefully it won’t go to.” It is now a fight for the places for the rest of the field, including Lewis Hamilton who is 96 points behind Vettel in what has been a positive first year for the Briton with Mercedes.
Raikkonen is two points further adrift and hoping to leave a good impression before he moves from Lotus to Ferrari.
“The main target is to have a better weekend overall compared to what we saw in Singapore,” said the Finn, who was hampered by a bad back and he failed to reach the top 10 in qualifying.
Raikkonen is still feeling back pain and may yet decide after Friday practice on whether to race at the weekend.
The weather could also play a decisive role in the race and qualifying with a typhoon heading towards Korea, although latest forecasts say it could just miss the Korean peninsula.
It is, however, expected to be cool and cloudy all weekend, with a strong chance of thunderstorms on race day.