Sebastian Vettel hasn’t been in Texas long enough to differentiate between a Dunkin’ and a Krispy Kreme. Still, the four-time/reigning Formula One World Driving Champion knows about “donuts,” that most American of racing victory celebrations.
Vettel punctuated his most recent F1 wins in the Indian and Abu Dhabi Grand Prixs with a series of tire-smoking, rubber-burning donut circles. But after qualifying on the pole Saturday for the second United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, Vettel remained noncommittal should he end Sunday’s 56-lap race atop the podium with a record eighth consecutive victory.
“Well, to worry about that is a nice problem to have, but first of all we have to focus on tomorrow’s race,” said Vettel, who toured COTA’s 3.4-mile, 20-turn layout in 1 minute, 36.338 seconds. That hot lap knocked Mark Webber, Vettel’s Red Bull Racing/Renault teammate off the pole before a crowd of 78,886.
“I’m sure Mark will try everything to get past as well as the people behind — Romain [Grosjean] and so on,” said Vettel, referring to the third-place qualifier from France and Lotus/Renault. “So it will be a long race.”
“I think we always push the car to the limit, so you never know what might happen. Therefore, I don’t think it’s the highest priority, to be honest, to worry about that right now. I think it has to happen very spontaneously.”
In India, Vettel celebrated his fourth consecutive championship by ripping off a series of donuts on the front straight of the Buddh International Circuit. He then exited and abandoned the car on the grid.
That broke a rule calling for the top three finishers to drive directly to “parc ferme,” as mandated by the FIA world sanctioning body. Vettel subsequently was reprimanded and RBR was slapped with a $34,500 fine.
After his 11th victory of the season at Abu Dhabi, Vettel dutifully returned the car to parc ferme and FIA stewards let Seb slide.
Even teammate Webber spun a couple of donuts after finishing second.
Webber, whose top lap was 1:36.441, was sullen after losing P1 to his teammate.
“We’re up there [Row 1] and well-done to Seb, obviously,” said Webber, the Australian who is headed to Porsche’s revived Prototype sports car program next year. “That’s why it was so frustrating to not get pole. Would have been good to get another one off Seb at the end with a few gray hairs — but didn’t happen. He did the lap.”
Vettel’s victory in Abu Dhabi was his seventh in a row, tying fellow German Michael Schumacher’s record in 2004 with Scuderia Ferrari.
Vettel’s 11th win of the season in 17 races was his 37th in 118 career starts. Saturday’s pole was his 12th of the season and 44th of his career.
Adrian Newey, who designed the RB9 chassis around Vettel, apparently has run out of superlatives to describe the 26-year-old superstar.
“Crikey!” Newey said. “I think he — like all the greats — has the ability to drive the car and at the same time have enough mental reserve to understand how he’s driving the car and to play that back and understand when to push and when not to, how the race is unfolding.
“I think he has very good recall, which means that when he gets out of the car he’s able to play back in his own mind what he’s experienced, digest that.
“He works hard in the evenings with the race engineers, and the result of all that is when he steps in the car again the next day he’s learned that little bit more.”
Vettel also has learned how to sidestep questions about his burgeoning presence in F1’s record book. Asked to speculate on the significance of a record eighth straight victory, Vettel said, “Well, I think maybe I’m not that clever, so I’m not trying to think that much about these things.
“I think we’ve done pretty well with that kind of approach the last couple of years, so I don’t see a reason to change.”