LONDON, Sept 2, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - Any lingering title hopes harboured by his rivals were virtually obliterated by Sebastian Vettel this week when after his stunning win in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, he made clear he has no intention of easing off in the final seven races this year.
Only his Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber, 35, appears to retain any realistic ambitions of closing the 24-year-old German's 92-points advantage and keeping the championship alive.
"There are still seven races to go and I am not giving up - anything can happen," said Webber while fellow-contenders in the chasing pack like two-times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso admitted he has now switched his focus to Ferrari's challenge for glory in 2012.
The McLaren pairing of Britons Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, and Jenson Button, the 2009 title-winner, have both also said they will continue to fight, but on 146 and 149 points respectively, compared to Vettel's total of 259, they know they need a miracle or a favourable misfortune to help them.
Webber has 167 points and Alonso 157 points - totals that signal massive deficits that can only be bridged by stopping the defending champion from winning, or finishing on the podium.
In effect, the chasing pack need to work together like a cycling team that keeps Vettel behind them so he cannot register major points hauls on the run-in.
But Vettel, who could coast to the title on such a luxurious lead, has made clear he only wants to win in style and with a continuation of the dominant streak that has seen him win seven of this year's 12 races. "If you are out in two races and someone else has a good couple of races, it could all change," said Vettel.
"So all we can do is try to get the optimum every time. It is not good to think of anything else. I want to keep winning, if I can."
After a relatively lean run of one win in five races, Vettel was back to his supreme best at Spa-Francorchamps where he led Webber home in an impressive Red Bull one-two that sent a shiver up and down the pit lane. It was his 17th career win and, according to Red Bull team chief Christian Horner, was one of his very best.
It embraced bravery, fast and bold racing, clever tyre management and strategy and a thrilling passing move on Alonso. "I think it was right up there with his best drives and best wins," said Horner. "It was like Monaco when he drove so far on the hard tyre - he produced a very mature drive."
"I think also that we had a very strong race pace. We thought it would perhaps favour some of our opponents more. But it just shows how difficult it is to predict performance.
"For the team it was a phenomenal weekend because Saturday was so tricky and there were so many issues. For me it showed how far we have come and how strong we are as a unit to get the calls and strategy right, the cars had tremendous pace and the drivers did their bit. It was a massive result for us."
Horner warned however that nothing is over until it is mathematically finished."There are seven races to go," he said. "There are still a lot of points available. This was our seventh win, our 12th pole and we've got a 100 per cent finishing record, but we don't underestimate our rivals and there'll be no complacency and heads down focused on the next race. We won't change our approach."
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza next weekend is almost certain to be approached with great determination not only by Ferrari, racing on home soil, but also by McLaren whose performance in Belgium did not live up to their potential.
For either team to haul in Red Bull on the famous old power track it will be critical to claim pole position - and so break Red Bull's stranglehold in qualifying. Webber is the only driver other than Vettel, so far, to have taken pole this year.
For Alonso, Button or Hamilton, the hope may be that if they cannot take pole away from Vettel then Webber will - and give them all a chance of beating him in what promises to be a hugely-competitive racing weekend in Italy.