The calculations are simple for Sebastien Vettel as he chases victory in the Japanese Grand Prix to secure a fourth straight Formula One championship.
If Vettel wins at Suzuka on Sunday, and his nearest rival Fernando Alonso finishes worse than eighth, the German driver will join his compatriot Michael Schumacher and Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio as the only men to win four consecutive titles. And if he does it in Japan, where he has won three of the last four GP races, he’ll be the youngest in the exclusive list to achieve four straight titles.
He has won the last four GPs, and his latest victory at the Korean Grand Prix on Sunday stretched his lead over Alonso to 77 points with five races left, and he rates Japan among his favorite GP events.
Despite the odds seemingly stacked in his favor, Vettel remains cautious.
“No win is inevitable,” Vettel said. “Sure, there’s some sort of expectation as things went so well in the immediate past — and also because I like Suzuka a lot — but I would find it inappropriate to sort of bank on winning.”
Ferrari driver Alonso, who won in Japan in 2006 and 2008, wasn’t about to give up after finishing sixth in Korea, but was realistic about his chances.
“Vettel is a very long way off in terms of points, but above all in performance terms, and we cannot expect miracles between now and the end of the championship,” Alonso said. “Second place in the constructors’ championship is probably a more realistic target, but one thing is certain, we are not giving up now and we will give it our best shot right to the very end.”
Vettel’s dominant run has some critics complaining of a lack of drama in F1. The German driver was booed when interviewed on the podium after winning the Singapore Grand Prix and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was recently quoted in the British media as saying the sport has become too predictable with Vettel’s dominance.
Hamilton later backtracked, and praised Vettel as a true champion. But the point was not without some truth.
Whether it comes in Japan or in one of the four races after Suzuka, another Vettel title is destined to rekindle comparisons with legendary figures like Schumacher and Fangio.
Fangio, who competed in just seven full seasons, won a total of five titles and four straight from 1954.
Schumacher won five straight titles from 2000-2004. His fourth successive title during that run came in 2003 when he was 34. And by the time he retired at 43, he’d won seven championships and was described as “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.”
Suzuka has always been popular among Japanese fans, who got a thrill last year when Kamui Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver to finish on the podium in 22 years. Kobayashi is no longer in F1 and the only chance for some local participation would be from Kimiya Sato, who will be Sauber’s reserve driver for the race.
Sato, no relation to former Jordan and Honda driver Takuma Sato, tested for the Swiss squad at the young driver test at Silverstone earlier this year. He finished third in last year’s German F3 championship and is currently second the 2013 Auto GP standings.