Sebastian Vettel all smiles as rivals await the inevitable

German praises Japan track and fans before race likely to cement his fourth world title

Suzuka

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Sebastian Vettel was full of praise for the track here in Japan as he looked ahead to Sunday's grand prix when he can seal his fourth consecutive world championship. "Just going through the first sector here is fantastic, with the high-speed corners," he gushed. "We really get to challenge ourselves, to push the cars to their limits, and obviously it's much more intense feeling the car at the limit in a high-speed corner.

"It's a very tricky track, very challenging," he added. "It's a place where we love to race. On top of that there is a fantastic atmosphere, with the crazy Japanese fans. They are very passionate about us coming here and I think all of us drivers get a lot of respect."

The German will love Suzuka even more if he wins and Fernando Alonso scores two or fewer points, thereby cementing that fourth straight title. That is what everyone expects, given that he has won the last four grands prix in a season that has brought him eight victories altogether. But can anyone realistically beat him? "Mark Webber," Lewis Hamilton replied immediately, tongue-in-cheek, when asked that question.

It's a feeling reflected up and down the pit lane, that there is almost an inevitability to the result given Vettel's recent form. Alonso says his three second places, in Belgium, Italy and Singapore, were miracles in a car really only good enough for third, and clearly doubts his chances of winning here. And even Hamilton, that never-say-die racer, believes Red Bull will take a lot of stopping.

"This track is made for them," he admitted. "But I'm confident that our car will be strong here. The second sector [at last week's race] in Korea was all about downforce and we were very strong there. I've dropped a place, to fourth, in the drivers' championship, but I think I can get that back here. Set-up wise we got ourselves in a really good place in Korea and qualifying was really good, though we had a poor race that went from bad to worse. It's been similar in a couple of races. I've had some really good ones this year – but I can't have them all right, like Sebastian."

Vettel, however, doesn't believe he's had it as easy as his results might suggest. "The car was on the edge in Korea, and it's never easy," he said. "Don't get me wrong, it's on another level compared to some cars, but no matter how quick the car makes it, you'll always push it to its edge. We had to push a lot in Korea – I couldn't really lean back and rest too much."

If Hamilton finds himself unable to fight for the win, his focus will be on beating Ferrari. His fifth place in Korea, won at Alonso's expense after some brilliant wheel-to-wheel, place-swapping racing with the Spaniard, was hugely motivating. "It was great," he said. "Our focus is on taking second place in the constructors' world championship. I've said before that would be fantastic for Mercedes."

With five races to run Mercedes are a point behind Ferrari. All Red Bull need on Sunday are seven points to clinch their fourth consecutive title, and while Vettel might wish to play down his chances, the form-book suggests it will take a miracle to stop him or his team from realising their destiny, if not this weekend then in India in a fortnight.

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