NEW DELHI, Oct 24, 2012 (AFP / Gordon Howard) - Sebastian Vettel's Asian hot streak has put him in the driving seat for a historic hat-trick of Formula One world titles -- but the Red Bull ace is playing down the prospect in India this week.
Three straight wins in Singapore, Japan and South Korea have catapulted the German to the top of the standings, ahead of long-time leader Fernando Alonso, and made him narrow favourite to become Formula One's youngest treble champion.
But Vettel, who can emulate Michael Schumacher and the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio by claiming his third straight world title, at the age of just 25, is steeling himself for a thrilling end to the season.
"We know what to do and what to expect, but we are not expecting anything. It looks like it could go down to the last race again, right to the wire," said Vettel. "We are ready for anything."
With four races to go, Vettel is just six points ahead of Ferrari's Alonso, with Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen another 42 points back in third. It sets up the prospect of another climactic year's end, after Vettel sealed his maiden title on the last day of the season in 2010.
Alonso and Ferrari, who have re-signed resurgent Brazilian Felipe Massa for 2013, arrive at India's Buddh International Circuit believing they have resolved some of their performance problems after a successful wind tunnel test.
Ferrari chief designer Nicolas Tombazis said separate aero tests have helped the team understand where rogue wind tunnel results were hampering the performance of recent upgrades.
He said: "The wind tunnel can only ever be a model of what things are like in reality and can never be completely real. The data we saw in our wind tunnel did not match 100 per cent the data we had at the track.
"We had some unpleasant surprises from some of the updates we brought to the last couple of races, so immediately, we wanted to fix that and understand where it had gone wrong."
McLaren also remained defiant about their ability to bounce back in the race for the team title, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button now out of the running for the drivers trophy.
"They (Red Bull) are within reach and we will never give up trying to turn that around," said technical director Paddy Lowe.
"I think we have seen this year that if you can qualify on the front row and then have even a moderate advantage or no advantage at all, it works for you to stay at the front. So we will have to turn qualifying around."
He added that he felt Red Bull's recent recovery in pace and performance is just another part of the ongoing development war that has dominated the entire season.
He said McLaren plan for more upgrades that may see the team back on top this weekend.
"We have some big stuff we are working on -- whether it will be enough, we don't know yet, but it will be spread across India and Abu Dhabi," said Lowe.
"It is going to be difficult to catch Red Bull in the constructors' championship, but we have a great determination to take second place -- and we always like to keep Ferrari behind us.
"That will be the least we should want to manage out of this season."