Vettel out to bolster title hopes in Britain
The controversy over Mercedes' in-season testing has been settled and Formula One's focus this weekend shifts to the British Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel strong bid to win a fourth-straight title.
Coming off a comfortabl win at the Canadian Grand Prix, 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. Silverstone has not been kind to Vettel in recent years. He has only won there once, in 2009, on what is essentially the team's home track - it's located 30 kilometres from Red Bull's factory in Milton Keynes - and had to watch his teammate Mark Webber claim victory two of the past three years.
"Apart from the unpredictable English weather, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is a highlight of the season and one of my favourite tracks," Vettel said. "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 keenly aware his 36 point-lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is far from impregnable with 12 races remaining.
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen is another eight points back in third and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is another 11 points behind in fourth.
"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. "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."
This time last year, it was Alonso who had the momentum in the championship, having won in Valencia and taking second at Silverstone. But he failed to win another race and Vettel put together a run of four straight victories to surge to the title.
Alonso has done well to keep pace with Vettel this season - winning twice and finishing second twice. But there is a sense that Ferrari 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 an upgraded car will end a poor recent run; 10th in Monaco and ninth in Canada.
"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.
Mercedes escaped with only a reprimand for violating rules by using its current-season car to conduct a joint testing session with tire provider Pirelli.
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.
"When I saw the team at the weekend everyone was relieved they could get on and start focusing on the next race," Hamilton 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's championship season in 2008 included victory at Silverstone.