Sebastian Vettel is becoming one of those rare athletes who gets so good that he ceases competing with contemporaries when he reaches a certain point in his career.
Now, when the German’s form is dissected, he is measured against record books and history, and this Sunday in Japan will be no different.
Suzuka, which is arguably one of Vettel’s favourite tracks, plays home to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, where the defending champion is bidding to etch his name in the Formula One record books for a fourth time as champion. In doing so he will become the youngest driver in history to reach that mark.
The 26-year-old will retain his crown—with four races to spare—if he wins and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who sits 77 points back in second place, fails to finish in the top eight. And if we can go by form and history, then a Vettel victory looks likely.
The man from Heppenheim has started on pole in his four appearances at Suzuka, winning on three of those occasions, and was the fastest during Friday’s second practice session.
If Vettel is successful in Japan, he will become just the fifth driver in history to win five consecutive races after his victories in Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Korea, according to the Daily Mail.
The car balance is decent, but I think we can still improve. Looking after the tyres will be important here, especially during the race. The car works fine at the moment, but we need to make sure we set it up the right way. It's good to see we are up there today, but it's not always so important; we need to step up our game for tomorrow, as Mercedes will be strong in qualifying.
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who finished third and sixth respectively in Friday’s practice session, were upbeat about their chances on the unforgiving track.
“It's fast and flowing, and our car really does feel good here,” said the Briton. “But it's also a very unforgiving and challenging circuit; you're always on the limit so the trick is to balance and control that limit.”
Elsewhere, Vettel’s compatriot Nico Hulkenberg will be looking to further enhance his chances of getting a decent drive next season when the action gets underway in Japan.
The Sauber driver has impressed of late, finishing fourth in Korea last weekend, a result which put his team above Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship.
It will be a big ask for Sauber to finish sixth in the team standings, but with Force India now in their sights the Swiss team will be eager to get some more points on the board on Sunday.
Vettel’s closest rival, Fernando Alonso, disappointed in Friday’s practice session, finishing 10th quickest in 1:35:087.
The Spaniard told Sky Sports that his team weren’t as competitive as they had hoped in training, but his mind was turned elsewhere on hearing of the death of compatriot Maria de Villota. Said Alonso:
It's hard to talk about Maria de Villota right now, as I had only just taken my helmet off, when I was told about her death and at the moment, I still can't believe it and need a while to stop and think about it...Of course, it's very sad news for the world of motorsport as Maria was loved by everyone.
Now, all we can do is pray for her and for her family.