SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 10, 2013 (AFP) - Sebastian Vettel Thursday brushed off suggestions that his dominance was putting Formula One fans to sleep, calling the claim a "compliment" and playing down comparisons to the Michael Schumacher era.
Rival driver Lewis Hamilton made the remarks in the wake yet another emphatic Vettel win in South Korea last weekend, which left Red Bull's German ace on the brink of a fourth successive world championship.
"Well that's a compliment, first of all," Vettel told reporters before Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, where he can mathematically wrap up the title and become only the third four-time champion after countryman Schumacher and Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio.
Hamilton had compared Vettel's pre-eminence to that of Schumacher, who won the championship five times on the bounce with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, and called it a turnoff for television viewers.
The Briton quickly took to Twitter to "clarify" his comments, proclaiming Vettel a "true champion". But the high-flying German could not dodge questions on the subject at Suzuka, where he has won three times, including last year.
"I think it's very different (to Schumacher's era)," said the 26-year-old, who holds a massive 77-point lead with just 125 points available from the year's last five races.
"I think there's 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, to lap two seconds quicker than the cars behind us.
"But what I want to say is that if you take Korea, which I think 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.
"Don't get me wrong, it's a nice cushion to have in the car, when you see that you're three seconds down the road, but equally you know that if you make one stupid mistake -- in Korea, for example, a lock-up which was very likely -- and three seconds is nothing compared to 30 or 60."
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.
"Obviously it's very nice to hear something like that. I think I can only give it back," said Vettel, who is set to tie Alain Prost's career haul of four titles.
"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.
"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."
Vettel, booed after victories in Spa, Monza and Singapore, has already racked up eight victories out of 14 this year and is on course to beat his previous best for a season of 11 in 2011, when he also clinched the title at Suzuka.
"It's never easy," he insisted. "No matter how quick the car is, you will always push the car to its edge. We were under pressure from Lotus in Korea. But Suzuka is one of the best tracks, if not the best, in the world.
"Just going through the first sector is fantastic, with the high-speed corners. We get to push the car to the limit."