SUZUKA, MIE PREF. - On the verge of claiming his fourth straight Formula One title, Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel doesn’t think his overwhelming dominance has made the sport less interesting for fans.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was quoted after Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix as suggesting that Vettel’s dominance risks putting fans to sleep, similar to the era when Michael Schumacher was dominating 10 years ago with five straight titles from 2000 to 2004.
Well that’s a compliment, first of all,” Vettel told reporters on Thursday, speaking before Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel has won eight of 14 races this season and will be aiming to clinch his fourth successive title at the Japanese Grand Prix. The German needs to win and have nearest rival Fernando Alonso finish worse than eighth.
If he wraps up the title at Suzuka, Vettel will join compatriot Schumacher and Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio as the only men to win four consecutive titles.
When asked about Hamilton’s comments, Vettel said there is a big difference between his wins and those of Schumacher.
Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix by 32.6 seconds over Alonso and was booed when interviewed on the podium but said his 4.2-second win over the Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean at the Korean Grand Prix on Sunday was more typical of his victories.
“I think it’s very different,” Vettel said Thursday. “I think there is probably one race which was a bit of an exception. If you take Singapore, the gaps we had and were able to build up were incredible. … If you take Korea, which is more similar to Spa, the gap was something between three and six seconds for the whole race. If you look at 10 years ago, it was more like 30 to 60 seconds which is a big difference.”
Vettel’s latest victory in South Korea stretched his lead over Alonso to 77 points with five races left.
Hamilton, who finished fifth at the Korea GP and is fourth in the standings, later backtracked on his comments and praised Vettel as a true champion via Twitter.
“It’s very easy for things to be misunderstood so I just wanted to clarify things,” Hamilton said.
Vettel, laughing and joking with Britain’s Jenson Button during Thursday’s press conference, also said he appreciated Hamilton’s unstinting praise offered on Twitter, after his initial comments had been widely reported.
“There is respect amongst the drivers, obviously there’s a lot of stuff that gets written and said but the most important thing is when you go up to another driver, whether you feel respected or not and I think that is the case,” Vettel said.
“I think Lewis is one of the best drivers currently in Formula One. I get along quite well with him lately so I can only say ‘Thank you very much’ and give it back.”
Hamilton’s only win this season came at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, but he still thinks he can challenge Vettel on Sunday.
“I definitely haven’t given up on the idea of being able to (beat Vettel),” Hamilton said. “We just need a weekend to go our way as it did in Hungary.”
Hamilton’s only win in Japan came at the Fuji Speedway in 2007. The Briton said the Suzuka circuit presents a unique set of challenges.
“In the past when I’ve been here, you can push, you can be aggressive but it’s not very forgiving,” Hamilton said. “If you are off line, or turn in a bit late you can lose position so accuracy is more vital here than at a lot of other tracks.”