Formula One drivers British Lewis Hamilton (left) of Mercedes AMG Petronas and German Sebastian Vettel of Infiniti Red Bull Racing are seen during a press conference at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday. The 2014 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia will take place on Sunday.
MELBOURNE: Red Bull ace Sebastien Vettel yesterday vowed to “push to the maximum” as he bids to shrug off pre-season mechanical woes and claim a record 10th successive win at the Australian Grand Prix.
The young German clinched his fourth straight world title in 2013 with a record-equalling nine wins in a row, matching the feat of Italy’s Alberto Ascari 60 years previously.
Victory on Sunday would give Vettel an unprecedented 10th consecutive win and a major boost in his attempt to match Michael Schumacher by claiming five titles in as many years.
But Vettel’s new Red Bull car is struggling to adapt to new technical requirements which include a turbocharged engine, energy recovery system and fuel limit.
He tipped Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, an impressive performer in testing, as the most likely winner in Melbourne -- but warned that Red Bull wasn’t waving the white flag just yet.
“It’s difficult to have any sort of expectations for most of us,” Vettel told reporters.
“But it’s a long season so I’m going out here not trying to just to make it round. I’m going out here to push to the maximum and do the best I can and then we will see where we are.
“The target for sure is to finish and to finish in the best possible position.
“For the rest of the year we are a strong team, we have a lot of good people on board and we have strong resources so I’m confident we should progress as the season goes on.”
Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, played down his chances in what is an unusually unpredictable race owing to the large number of technical changes.
“All the media are talking us up. Favourite driver, favourite team... I just don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend,” said the Briton, adding that he expected stiff competition from team-mate Nico Rosberg.
“It’s very technical this year and everyone is in the same boat and everyone is trying to see where the advantage is going to be between the two drivers,” Hamilton said, referring to Rosberg.
“From race to race I think you’re going to see one time he’s ahead, and another time I’m ahead, the same that you saw last year. The goal is to be ahead on the track.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, teamed this year with fellow former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, also said there was great uncertainty before the season-opener.
“It’s very difficult to tell how competitive we are at the moment and we will know some answers in the next 24-48 hours,” said the Spaniard.
“I think the car itself and the technology that Formula One has brought this year is a little complex for everyone and we are learning and developing the car every day.”
The plight of Schumacher, who remains in an induced coma following a skiing accident in December, will provide a sombre backdrop to the start of the new season.
Meanwhile, formula One stewards are likely to make allowances for any driver who fails to qualify for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix due to problems with the new engines, race director Charlie Whiting said yesterday.
Under the regulations, to qualify for the race drivers must clock a time within 107 percent of that set by the driver on pole position.
However, the sport is coming to terms with a new V6 turbo power unit with complicated energy recovery systems that have proved tricky, and time-consuming to work on, in pre-season testing.
Some teams have arrived in Melbourne without having completed a full race simulation, or even practice starts, with their new cars. Whiting told reporters at Albert Park that it was unlikely the 107 percent rule would be strictly enforced due to the situation.
“I think the 107 percent rule was introduced to make sure that teams that weren’t capable of producing a good car that was of the required performance wouldn’t actually get into the races,” he said.
“What we have out here at the moment are 11 teams that we know are capable. They may be suffering a temporary performance loss but I’m sure the stewards will look very sympathetically on any team that doesn’t make the 107 percent.”
He cautioned, however, that stewards may be less lenient on teams who failed to complete any timed laps in practice or qualifying. AGENCIES