Sebastian Vettel can clinch a second world title at Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix
The German holds a 124-point lead over Jenson Button in the drivers' standings
The Red Bull driver is poised to become the youngest double world champion in F1 history
Sebastian Vettel became Formula One’s youngest world champion in a five-way shootout at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November 2010, and the German needs just one point in Japan this weekend to seal a second world crown.
Vettel’s dominant form in 2011 has led him to victory in nine of 14 races so far, and the 24-year-old is on the brink of becoming the ninth driver to secure back-to-back titles in the championship’s 61-year history.
If he does so, the celebrations will come with four races to go – putting Vettel narrowly behind his legendary compatriot Michael Schumacher, who set the standard in 2002 when he clinched the fifth of his record seven world titles with six of the 17 races remaining.
Vettel will also become the youngest double world champion, beating the 25-year-old Fernando Alonso’s feat with Renault in 2005-06.
Former Toro Rosso driver Vettel needs to earn a 10th-place finish, or higher, in one of the season’s five remaining grands prix to complete his triumph.
McLaren’s 2009 world champion Jenson Button, second in the drivers’ standings, is the only driver who still has a mathematical chance of preventing Red Bull celebrations on Sunday.
British racer Button would need the unlikely combination of Vettel to score no further world championship points, while also winning the year’s five remaining races.
Despite Vettel knowing he could win the title with an uncharacteristically low finish – he has finished outside of the top two in just one race this year – the one-time Sauber driver insisted he is fully focused on claiming another maximum 25-point haul.
“Obviously there’s still a chance for Jenson to win the title and for me not to win the title,” Vettel told Formula One’s official website. “Even if it’s only one point.
“The moment you decide to fly, sooner or later there’s a moment when you will come down as well. You have to, nothing flies for ever. I think it would be wrong to think like that at this stage, the target going into this weekend is not to get one point, in a way it’s not to win the championship, the target is to do our best.
“Yes, there would be reason to celebrate, even if we finish tenth, but it wouldn’t be the same so we try to race as usual and we try to get the best out of ourselves.”
When asked what the secret behind his success was, Vettel’s answer was simple: “Probably a word that is not at first sight that fancy, consistency. And in this respect we have had a terrific year so far and I hope it will not desert us for the final races.”
The climax to the 2011 season is in stark contrast to last year’s finale, when Vettel leaped from third position heading into the final race at the Yas Marina Circuit to overhaul teammate Mark Webber and Ferrari’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso to claim glory.
“Going into the last race and being some points behind is a completely different situation to leading the standings by a gap of 124 points,” said Vettel, who was 15 points adrift of first-place Alonso heading into November’s final race in the gulf kingdom.
“What I try to do is not to listen to all these statistics and simply focus on this race, as I always do with every single race – which has served me well. I have learned from the mistakes that I made in the past and it would be foolish to make them again, so don’t wait to see them here.
“It is not embarrassing making mistakes if you learn from them, but it would be embarrassing making the same mistakes all over again. “
Button was cautiously optimistic regarding his chances in Suzuka, but admitted the circuit is one which would suit Red Bull’s RB7 car.
“I think it will be a great race for everyone,” said Button, who recently signed a new deal with English-based McLaren. “In the last few races, I think we’ve shown that we have extremely good pace and that we’ve been the team most able to take the fight to Red Bull.
“On paper, I think it’s a circuit that will suit the Red Bulls, particularly in the high-speed sweeps that make up the first sector of the track, but I certainly don’t think people should under-estimate our package.
“We showed at Spa that we have a car that’s very effective in high-speed corners. We’ve also improved our straight-line speed and we have a more efficient rear wing for qualifying, so I think we’re feeling positive about the weekend.”
If Vettel fails to clinch the championship this weekend, the title race would roll on to the Korean Grand Prix on October 16.