LONDON, March 9, 2013 (AFP/Tim Collings) - After an unprecedented three successive title triumphs, Sebastian Vettel starts the 2013 Formula One season as hot favourite to maintain his domination -- provided Red Bull continues to supply a competitive car.
The 25-year-old has already achieved greatness as one of the finest drivers of all time but has managed to achieve that with more than raw speed and rare talent -- an instinct to ride out difficulties and scrape results when least expected.
The German clinched the 2012 drivers title by just three points from Spain's Fernando Alonso of Ferrari as a closely-contested campaign came to a thrilling climax in Brazil.
Vettel, as cool as anyone could be in the heat of a triumphant afternoon in Sao Paulo, warned immediately that, for him, repeating the feat will only become more and more difficult.
"I said after (the Brazil) race that the hardest thing is to win after you have (already) won," he said. "That has not changed.
"You get the attention and the pressure, and you are very likely to focus on how to win again, rather than the small steps (needed) to win in first place.
"Of course there's pressure (and) on top of that it's always getting more and more tense at the end of the year but for us to win three titles is very special so I think that whatever anybody else says we are doing something right."
During the close season, Vettel brushed aside speculation about a possible move to Ferrai and stressed he was going to be more self-centred in his work and his outlook.
"The most important thing is to focus on yourself and to remain yourself," he said.
Winter testing during February in Spain left him slightly disappointed and gave rise to a tone of realism as he summarised his feelings ahead of the season opening race in Melbourne on March 17.
Vettel conceded that tyres -- their condition and performance -- had proved to be such a major factor in evaluating performance that it was difficult to assess the potential of his car. Many other teams and drivers complained of the same problem.
"We just have to look after ourselves," he said. "We didn't tick all the boxes that we would have liked to and the last two days were not as good as we would have expected. But there's still a little bit of time left before the season starts."
On his personal website, he wrote: "I finally took the chance to watch some of the other teams for a bit. Nico (Rosberg) had a great final day of testing in his Mercedes, which shows how dangerous he and Lewis will be in the future.
"But there are a lot of others to keep in mind as well."
As always, he played down his own longer run performances.
"All in all I am fairly happy with how everything went in these last weeks. The team did a great job with the car and both (Australian) Mark (Webber) and I felt comfortable right away.
"We learned a lot over the winter tests and we'll be bringing that new knowledge with us to Australia. I am already really looking forward to it."