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F1 becoming a battle for second place

Even with half the season still to go, the Formula One championship already appears to be a battle for second place as hopes of catching Sebastian Vettel are fading fast.

The reigning world champion goes into Sunday's British Grand Prix with a commanding 77-point lead, having won six of the eight races and been runner-up in the other two.

"Sebastian is the best right now and that's why he is dominating," F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said on the championship's web site. "Every race weekend starts with a big question mark: Who will be able to beat Vettel?"

Red Bull teammate Mark Webber? McLaren's Jenson Button? They are locked on 109 points behind Vettel in the standings. In third place is former world champion Lewis Hamilton who, together with McLaren team mate Button, is the only other driver to have beaten Vettel this season.

"He has an absolute will to win - and has everything in his hands to do it," Ecclestone said.

Despite some rivals effectively conceding the title to Vettel, the German has dampened such premature talk.

"We had good races last year up to a certain point where things went wrong and we lost a lot of points, not necessarily making big mistakes but losing out, losing points," he said. "If you look at Formula One and you compare it to other sports, it's a very, very long season. We have a lot of races and there are so many things that can happen, and surely you will have some races where everything will work, but you will have races where you will struggle, where it will be difficult, where you have conditions like Canada or things not going your way."

In a rare blip in North America last month, Button pressured Vettel into a last-lap slide to win. The victory - the 10th of Button's near-200 race career - raised the Briton's spirits, having not triumphed since April 2010 in China.

"Getting the win in Canada was a very special one for me, and that will definitely keep me going for quite a bit longer in the sport in terms of excitement and really wanting to get back to that," said the 31-year-old Button, who followed up his world championship triumph in 2009 with a fourth-placed finish last year. "Winning becomes very addictive, and you really miss it when you haven't done it."

The elation of Montreal was short-lived as McLaren failed to maintain the momentum into the European Grand Prix. Vettel and Webber were only split by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso on the Valencia podium.

Button, though, is optimistic that his car will be more competitive at home as he chases his first-ever podium finish at the British GP.

"We had a discussion after the race regarding the improvements coming for Silverstone," Button said. "I was in the factory on Wednesday, and I drove the simulator, so hopefully we'll turn up with a good package."

There is caution emanating from Red Bull's headquarters near Silverstone in central England. Although the Milton Keynes-based team enjoys an 89-point lead in the constructors' championship over the McLaren outfit of Button and Lewis Hamilton, a rule change could thwart its dominance.

From Sunday's race, off-throttle blown diffusers - a system that generates downforce and in turn assists performance - have been banned.

"We'll be quite heavily affected because our car was designed around the exhaust," Red Bull designer Adrian Newey said. "Everybody else has, generally speaking, copied somebody else's principle, mainly ours, and adapted it to the car they had in preseason. So it might be that because our car has been designed around it, it's going to be more of a hit for us, but it's very difficult to forecast. Right now we're less than half the way through the championship (11 races remaining) ... we certainly can't take anything as read."

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