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July 23, 2017

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Vettel: A very modern Formula 1 champion

LONDON -- Bad news for Sebastian Vettel's rivals — not only has he extended his contract but Red Bull are confident they have fine-tuned their car for Europe's high speed circuits.

The triple champion's consummate triumph last weekend in Montreal proved both he and his car are back in the groove after problems in Spain, where they led on the high-speed sections at the Circuit de Catalunya but came in fourth.

"I think that obviously set-up wise we made some progress here and we hope that that will continue into the Silverstone weekend," said Red Bull team chief Christian Horner in Canada.

"Malaysia also had very quick corners and we were strong there so I think we have understood some of the issues we had in Barcelona, and hopefully we can carry this form into the next few races."

That means the heartland races of the European 'season' at which the controversial issue of tire-wear may be Vettel's only problem.

The Canadian Grand Prix, however, demonstrated that Vettel and Red Bull look to have sorted out that problem too.

In seven races this year, in a car that has needed some tweaking and developing, he has won three times to lead the title chase.

As a package, that adds up to confirmation that, unforeseen disasters notwithstanding, Vettel is going to become a better, faster and more supremely confident champion driver for at least the next two years.

Afer that, as he has readily admitted, who knows?

By the end of 2015, he may have won six drivers' world championships and grown bored with the annual ritual of maintaining German domination in a sport that has seen him break every record.

He may extend his contract again, of course, and continue for another five years.

If he did, and stayed as dominant as he is, he could have accumulated eight titles and overhauled his friend, mentor and compatriot Michael Schumacher's record of seven titles.

Teasingly, he said last week that might be enough.

"Perhaps I will no longer be driving in five years' time because I no longer have the urge to," he told German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag.

It may have been a typically light-hearted remark, but it signals that it is no longer accepted as automatic that he will invest a major part of his career with a team as Schumacher did with Ferrari.

Vettel epitomizes the changing times in F1.

Schumacher's career was largely spent in the final part of the old privateer era in Formula One, when smaller independent teams — and Ferrari were once among them — could cock a snook at the motor manufacturers' factory outfits.

In contrast Vettel drives a competitive car built in Milton Keynes, designed by Adrian Newey and funded by the Red Bull energy drinks empire.

The clock has turned and with it F1 has evolved into a global business for the biggest players — and not just car-makers any more.

This is the era of sport as a commodified and mediated package delivered, wrapped in advertisers' brands, marketing tricks and sponsors' logos into the homes of a target market.

And the clever, contemporary and computer-age icon of this fast-moving and forever-changing world, the prince of speed and king of communications, is the kid who has rewritten the record book and recast the image of F1's uber-hero.

Vettel's car is almost a computer with wheels. He is of his own era and manifests that more completely than any of his rivals.

And he is still only 25.

Where once, it was considered indecent for a champion to emerge much before his 30th birthday, this grown-up baby-faced assassin has done it all before he is halfway through his twenties.

His rivals need time machines. Fernando Alonso is 32 next month, Lewis Hamilton is 28 and his Red Bull team-mate, chief rival and measuring stick, Australian Mark Webber will be 37 in August.

And his relentless success is reflected in ever-greater statistical mountains — 29 wins already, 39 pole positions and three successive drivers' crowns.

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