Stats, speed and success spur on Vettel
It is an open secret in Formula 1 that Sebastian Vettel, who became the youngest double world champion in history this year, is motivated at least partly by statistics.
The Red Bull driver himself, though, has been a little shy about admitting it so far - but on Wednesday he went as far as he ever has towards acknowledging that, yes, he would not mind having a crack at the all-time records.
Until Vettel's remarkable run of success, particularly this year, Michael Schumacher's landmarks of seven titles, 91 wins and 68 pole positions looked unbeatable.
But Vettel, at the age of 24, already has 20 victories and 27 poles, as well as those two titles. Suddenly, Schumacher's records don't look quite so impregnable after all.
Vettel on his 2011: "Seasons like this don't happen too often... we want to enjoy it." Photo: Getty
"I like statistics," Vettel said, "as in I care about the sport, I know the sport, I know ex-F1 drivers, the big names, and know a little bit the numbers according to the drivers.
"The only thing I like from time to time is to see if my name is somewhere there. I don't really set myself a target of wins and poles, I am not racing for statistics, so I know some numbers, but not all. I love Formula 1, I always did as a small kid and that hasn't changed."
A little later, the mask seemed to slip a little further when someone asked him who was the youngest three-time world champion.
"I don't know," Vettel replied. "Michael is the youngest seven-time world champion."
So that's the ambition?
"That is a long, long way to go," Vettel said. "Obviously we have had two phenomenal seasons and sometimes then you get over-excited and start to talk about those things.
"But really we know how much it takes to win a race, and a whole championship. That really puts things in perspective. It's a long, long way. I don't think you can set the target to say I want to win seven world titles. What Michael achieved in many ways was outstanding."
Vettel was talking at Red Bull Racing's Milton Keynes headquarters, where a news conference on Wednesday morning preceded a private team party in the afternoon.
Vettel - and Red Bull - have every reason to celebrate, after putting together one of the most extraordinary seasons in F1 history.
With 16 races down and three still to go, Vettel has won 10 races, taken 13 pole positions, finished on the podium in every race but one (when he was fourth) and tied up the title in Japan 10 days ago with four races to spare.
But he admitted that it took the most mundane of things for the fact that he was a double world champion to finally sink in properly.
Regardless, he said, "I really enjoyed the moment of opening the door, going into the house, knowing what we have achieved. It's those small things that really make you realise what has happened.
"I really like it when nothing is happening, to enjoy the peace, to enjoy time. I didn't do anything special on Monday - just surfing the internet, sleeping, just enjoy the peace and no stress. That's when things really start to sink in.
"It's a nice feeling, because you know all the hours you have spent in the gym, on the race track, it paid off."
Vettel was in a sunny mood on Wednesday - as he so often is. But there was no mistaking the underlying steeliness that is part of what makes him such a formidable competitor.
Anyone who thought his ambition might have been dulled by such towering success so young will need to recalibrate their expectations.
Can you be as dominant next season, he was asked.
"We try," he said. "You never want to come back and do worse than you have done. We set the benchmark very high, and it has been a special season for both sides.
"I had a very good run and the team had a phenomenal run, reliability was great - we've had no technical failures so far. We'll see. We are working hard and we are extremely motivated."
Sebastian Vettel "drove perfectly" all season, according to Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Photo: Getty
After a 2010 season in which, as Vettel has admitted himself, a series of mistakes made winning his first world title much more difficult than it should have been, he and the team have moved on to another level.
He did make mistakes this year. One thinks of the half-spin on the last lap in Canada that handed victory to a charging Jenson Button. Or another spin when trying to stay in touch with the leaders in Germany, his least competitive race of the season. Or his couple of crashes in Friday practice sessions.
But none of them badly affected him, and overall he "drove perfectly", as Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, the previous youngest double champion, described it.
Vettel looked at the new form F1 took on this season with deliberately high-wear Pirelli tyres and the DRS overtaking aid, realised what was needed to succeed in races, and ruthlessly used the best car on the grid to crush his rivals.
Race after race, he took pole, used the car's inherent pace advantage to build the lead he needed to protect himself at the first pit stops while taking only what he needed to out of the tyres, and held the cushion for the rest of the race.
This strategy formed the bedrock of his season, and generally worked even on the few occasions when the Red Bull was not the fastest car in the race.
His driving was matched by a team that, operationally as well as in terms of the performance of its car, was in a league of its own.
"After every race, I get a print out of the race results, the championship standings and everything and the first thing I do is rip the championship standings off, because the only thing that matters is what we did on that day," Vettel said.
"If you get beaten, you have to accept it. You shouldn't like it, because then you would be in the wrong sport, but there are other very smart people and other very good drivers, and you never get beaten for no reason.
"This year some of the racing has been close, but if there was a chance to open a gap and benefit from it for the rest of the race we were always in a very strong position and many times used that to go for that.
"But I don't think it's fair to say we had a massive advantage all year long. Seasons like this don't happen too often and that's why we want to enjoy it.
"I am extremely proud and to see my name alongside some of the great names is really special. As much as the first world title, the second one people can't take away from you. Many things in life come and go but this will stay forever."