Oct 26 2013
Sebastian Vettel stands on the brink of one of the most significant achievements in recent Formula One history after continuing his domination of the Indian Grand Prix weekend by taking pole position with another stellar performance.
The Red Bull driver needs to finish only fifth or better on Sunday to become the fourth man to amass four world titles - and just the third to rattle off all four consecutively, emulating the achievements of Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio.
Certainly the 26-year-old German could not have picked a more fitting venue to try to get the job done, having dominated this race since it first appeared on the F1 calendar, claiming three poles in a row and leading all 120 laps on his way to winning in both 2011 and 2012.
His latest pole position at the challenging Buddh International Circuit was secured with a lap of one minute 24.119 seconds, seven-tenths quicker than nearest challenger Nico Rosberg, who finished just a shade ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Having finished quickest in every practice session leading up to qualifying - as he also did here a year ago - the odds are massively stacked in favour of Vettel wrapping up the title come Sunday afternoon.
Yet while a place among Formula One's very greatest names beckons, Vettel insists he is trying to keep his focus only on the immediate task of winning a grand prix.
"I'm trying not to think about it," he said. "Obviously it's difficult when every second person in the paddock asks you the same question. But we've done pretty well in the past focusing on every single step and I see no reason to change tomorrow.
"I don't think I did anything special the last three times, not that I can remember. I wasn't looking forward to the race and going, 'yeah tomorrow is the day, could be the day'.
"I was basically trying to focus on the race and trying to ignore the fact that it could be the decisive race."
Despite the dominance Vettel has shown so far this weekend, a possible chink in his armour could come from Pirelli's tyres, which have produced huge variables in performance and endurance between the two compounds the manufacturer brought to this race.
Vettel will start the 60-lap race on the soft tyre, as will the two Mercedes drivers, but Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber managed to claim fourth on the grid, within a second of the German yet on a medium tyre that is significantly slower than the soft.
Webber could well come into play should the fragile soft tyre force the top three into early first pit stops, as could Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who will line up in eighth place but is also on the medium tyre.
Second and third on the grid was a good performance from Mercedes, who are battling with Ferrari for second place in the constructors' championship, and Rosberg admitted he had to work extra hard to extract the maximum from his car.
"I'm on a knife-edge, completely pushing the limits, trying to extract that little tenth more out of the car," he said. "Until now it's worked and I'm very pleased with that.
"Qualifying in second is better than I hoped for, because of Mark being on another strategy, so for now it's looking okay."
Hamilton, meanwhile, fears Mercedes will be battling only to be best of the rest behind Red Bull one Sunday's race gets under way.
"It's been a tough weekend. We've been pushing as hard as we can to get a good result this weekend. I was a little bit surprised to be where we are," he said.
"We'll try and push these guys as hard as we can in the race obviously. They're in another world but we'll try to stay ahead of the rest."
Elsewhere, Ferrari's Felipe Massa will start fifth ahead of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, with the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg seventh, while McLaren's Jenson Button will line up 10th, Paul Di Resta of Force India 12th and Marussia's Max Chilton 22nd and last.