MELBOURNE, March 14, 2013 (AFP) - Sebastian Vettel is predicting an even closer battle for the Formula One world drivers championship when the new season gets under way in Australia on Sunday.
The German ace piloted his Red Bull to a third consecutive world title in the final race of last season in Brazil, pipping Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by just three points.
It was the second time in the past three seasons that the Spaniard had been denied by the young German for the world championship in the last race.
Vettel, 25, is bidding to become the youngest driver to win four world titles in a row, a feat only achieved by Formula One legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
Vettel is again the hunted favourite after three years in the fastest car produced by Red Bull.
"The secret is not to think about what happened in the last three years. I think the first title was very special," he said Thursday.
"After that you don't have that pressure any more. You've proved to yourself more than anyone else that you can do so.
"After that I had two fantastic years again, very different to each other but we don't think about what happened last year or the last three years."
Vettel said that past glories meant little as the drivers embark on the new 19-race season.
"We are here, we have zero points at the moment, the same as everyone else. Everyone has the same opportunities, the cars haven't really changed," he said.
"Last year we saw it was very close, so I don't expect it to be any different than last year, if anything even a bit tighter, so it will crucial
to make the most out of every single race."
The German has a deep respect for Alonso, who did wonders with his Ferrari last season to take the fight to the Red Bulls.
"I think Fernando is one of the most respected and most accepted drivers in
the world," he said.
"In most circumstances he has the ability to be on the limit. I think he is a very intelligent driver and that's the reason why he is always fighting for the championship until the end for many years in his career.
"Fortunately, we had the upper hand for the last couple of years but surely he's trying his best to give everyone a hard time again this year."
Alonso reciprocated with mutual praise at Thursday's news conference ahead of Friday's opening practice on the Albert Park street circuit.
"He's three-times world champion and has beaten all the records with wins, fastest laps and pole positions. In 2011 it was nearly a record championship," he said.
"It's not only just about the car or the package. You need to perform even when you have the car that is available.
"Seb has won nearly everything perfect in the last years and for that he is world champion. He is a tough rival and contender for the next couple of years."