LONDON, April 28, 2012 (AFP) - Sebastian Vettel made clear this week that despite his triumph in the desert in Bahrain last Sunday he is taking nothing for granted in the Formula One title race.
Four races into the new F1 season, the defending double world champion and current leader conceded that neither he, nor his Red Bull team, were feeling confident of defending their titles.
The 24-year-old German, who blitzed to his second drivers' crown last year with a dominant early-season run, on his way taking 12 victories and 18 pole positions, admitted things are not the same in 2012 as 2011.
"It is so tight now and we are not feeling as confident as we used to feel," he said. "We need to do some work, to test things."
Although there were signs of a Red Bull revival in last weekend's controversial Bahrain Grand Prix, where he was victorious ahead of resurgent 2007 champion Finn Kimi Raikkonen for Lotus, neither he nor his team appear to be convinced.
"I don't feel happy with where we are now, but I do feel there is a great potential in the car," he explained.
"So many small things can make a big difference, especially in qualifying, and also they can have a big impact in the race."
Vettel's win at the Sakhir circuit last Sunday was his first in four races that this year have delivered four different winners - a mixture of results that suggests the season ahead may be wide open.
It is the first time in 29 years that the opening four events have produced four different drivers on the top of the podium, a factor created, many critics say, by the poor consistency and durability levels of the Pirelli
Seven-times champion German Michael Schumacher has criticised Pirelli for the quality of the tyres and suggested that they are turning the world's leading motor racing formula into a tyres-management contest.
Vettel and Red Bull have been reluctant to be drawn into the argument over the tyres after an early season run that saw them take just one podium finish in the first three races before Bahrain - and saw Australian Mark Webber reel off four successive pole positions.
Vettel believes one of the keys to a sustained Red Bull recovery will be in tyre management in cooler and more variable conditions - and also the team's performances in qualifying.
"We'd have loved to be in a better place to start the races this year," he said. "But I still think we have done ok in the races. It is going to settle down, I hope. But we have to see what everyone else is doing."
Vettel's triumph in Bahrain followed his first pole of the season - and first by the team this year - and he hopes that is a signal that things are improving just as their main rivals are hitting a few problems.
To confirm where they stand, and hope to find some improvements, Vettel and Red Bull have spent much of this week analysing data back at their Milton Keynes headquarters before preparing to join the teams heading to Italy for a test session at Mugello.
It is the first time F1 has permitted any testing during the season since 2008.
Vettel said: "I think we'll be able to test and evaluate a lot of things in Italy and I hope we can get the car in a happier place!"
Like his rivals at McLaren and Mercedes-Benz Vettel knows it is vital not to fall away from a competitive level of performance at this early stage of the season ahead of the opening European race, the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona, on May 13.