Sebastian Vettel is determined not to finish runner-up in this season's world championship but warned he still faces an eight-way battle to succeed Jenson Button as the champion. Vettel, currently third and two points behind championship leader Felipe Massa in the 2010 title race following a superb victory in Malaysia earlier this month, was second to Button last season and described it as "the worst feeling in the world".
The Red Bull-Renault driver said: "I'm not proud of my second place - that's the truth. There were good points in the season and it was great to finish with the win in Abu Dhabi but second is not a place I want to be again. It's the worst place to finish in the championship." Vettel was the form driver in the latter half of last season but his championship bid finally faltered at the penultimate race in Brazil, the low point of his season when a fourth place finally ended his dreams for 2009.
He recalled: "The race went well for the team [teammate Mark Webber won the race] but what it meant was bad, real bad. "The championship was over and that did not leave a sweet taste in the mouth." The 22-year-old is the man to beat so far this season. Vettel would have been celebrating a maximum-points haul with three race victories had reliability issues not denied him in Bahrain and Australia. And the German driver is the favourite to win Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.
However, he said his combined qualifying and race pace was not necessarily enough to guarantee him victory in Shanghai, let alone a world title in only his third season in the sport. "Having the quickest car is not always the one that wins," he said. "You have to have a competitive edge, reliability, a robust car, you need to be smart and you need to have some luck. Hopefully I'll have those things this year.
"You need a lot of things to win the world title. It's a very long season - we have 19 races and a lot can happen. "Last year, we all thought the championship was decided after seven races when Jenson Button had won six of them but that didn't prove to be the case. In the end, we had a chance and got close. "I can't say we should have won as we didn't but we had an extremely good car. That's the same again this year and I still can't tell whether we should or will win. Ask me at the end of the season."
Just nine points separate the top seven in the championship standings and Vettel said the battle for the drivers' title remained wide open going into race four of 2010. "We've been quick and Ferrari and McLaren have been, too, but there are still eight drivers that can win the title," he said. "There's me, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
"That's eight and only one of us can finish first. Who it will be, I don't know. "It certainly won't be a case that the eight of us will still be fighting for the championship in the last two or three races. It will be whittled down to two or three by then, but whatever happens it's going to be very exciting." Of that eight, Schumacher's championship credentials currently look the weakest. The seven-time world champion has been outdriven by teammate Rosberg at the three races to date and lies tenth in standings with just nine points.
But Vettel predicted his 41-year-old countryman to come good as the season progresses. "He's almost double my age, which is crazy, and I can't imagine me driving a Formula 1 car at 41," he said. "It's great he's back and, sure, it's special to beat him on track as he's a real legend but it's special to beat everyone as long as you're winning the race. But he's definitely not done yet." The characterful Vettel has named his car for this season, Red Bull's RB6, 'Luscious Liz' following a naming theme from his two cars last season, 'Kate' and 'Kate's dirty little sister'.
He explained: "It's just a bit of fun but I like to name the cars and they have to be women's names. It would be wrong if it was a man's, wouldn't it? I like the name Liz and luscious goes well with it, and so far I like working with Liz." On current form, that partnership looks set to be the quickest in Shanghai when practice begins tomorrow and for the rest of the season. @Email:email@example.com