Suzuka, Japan, Oct 10, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - Sebastian Vettel is on course to become one of the greatest champions in Formula One history - and has the potential to secure more glory than Michael Schumacher, according to two of the greatest drivers of all time.
Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda, both triple world champions, believe the 24-year-old German can go on and emulate his compatriot's achievements providing Red Bull can maintain their levels of car design.
And if he does, it will cement an era of German supremacy in Formula One.Stewart, champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973, said: "He is unquestionably the most mature 24-year-old racing driver I have seen. He has made slight errors, such as losing in Canada to Jenson Button, who was supreme that day, but his second world title is an incredible achievement for one so young."
He added: "Vettel's greatest strength lies in his mind management. God gives you your natural talent, but it is what you do with that talent. So many people have let it slip away or abused it. Vettel hasn't."
Lauda, who took the title in 1975, 1977 and 1984, said: "If you choose the wrong car, or the car you are driving doesn't work, then you can't win because it's always the combination of the two.
"But, theoretically, he can certainly win more than Schumacher if he sits at the right time in the right car because he himself is certainly capable of it."
He added: "It is the best performance so far in Formula One -- at his age to win two. To win the first one is always the most difficult because all of your career, starting from go-karts all the way up, is years and years of work for this particular day. The second one is easier in a way because there is less pressure."
Stewart added: "If Red Bull were to keep their dominance there is no reason why Sebastian cannot keep winning. Everybody gets excited when someone is winning as robustly as Vettel and starts asking whether he is the greatest of all time.
"But that is not what it is about. You can only be the best of your own time and right now, make no mistake, he is the best."
Vettel became the youngest back-to-back double champion in F1 history on Sunday when he finished third in the Japanese Grand Prix behind triumphant Briton Jenson Button of McLaren and Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Button, the 2009 champion, also heaped praise on Button for his near-faultless driving this year as also did Alonso, the last back-to-back title-winner with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
Both vowed to improve next year and carry the fight back to the dominant German and his Red Bull team, but Vettel's team chief Christian Horner warned: "I think he is going to improve again next year.
"It will be hard for him to better what he has achieved so far this year, but knowing Sebastian he is never satisfied and he will always be looking to improve. And that is what makes him such a strong driver."
Vettel grew up idolising Schumacher and was still in kindergarten when the former 'red baron' started his career. Schumacher, the sport's most successful driver, went on to record 91 wins and take seven championships.
Before Schumacher made his debut in 1991, Germany had never had a driver who had won a race in Formula One, but in the 20 years since then they have dominated the sport.
Of the 20 titles won since Brazilian Ayrton Senna won his third and last (in 1991), German drivers (Schumacher and Vettel) have won nine, British drivers (Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button) have taken four, Finnish three (Mika Hakkinen two and Kimi Raikkonen), Spain two (Alonso) and Canada and France one each (Jacques Villeneuve and Alain Prost).
German drivers have now won nine of the last 18 championships, confirming their nation's era of hegemony. It is difficult, now, to imagine the previous age in which men from Brazil, France and Austria were dominant.