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Speedy Sebastian Vettel lays down the marker

We discuss the significance of the 23 year old German chalking the fastest pre-season lap time

Posted Feb 02, 2011 by Shaun Edwards

Sebastian Vettel

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel is the man to beat this season. The 23 year old has got off to a flying start, setting the fastest lap time on day 1 of the first official testing session in Valencia.

The German achieved a lap time of one minute 13.769 seconds which was 0.17 seconds quicker than the next fastest lap time set by Hulkenberg. Vettel completed 93 laps in total of the circuit and said “It’s day one but not much time until Abu Dhabi so for the team to build a car that has no issues is good news.

You can never really judge how a season is going to pan out by the way the testing sessions go, particularly these early stage ones where teams and their drivers are struggling to get to grips with the latest string of updates and rule changes. In fact, this time last year in Valencia, Fernando Alonso set the fastest lap time of the testing session with a time of 1 minute 11.470 – and as you well know, he didn’t go on to win the season and indeed his season was fairly chequered. But he did win the opening race in Bahrain and I think that’s important because to a certain extent, the Formula 1 season is about momentum – wins usually breed wins. Alonso suffered last year because his car let him down.

If you look back to the 2009 season, Jenson Button set the fastest lap time in Valencia during testing and he went on to win six out of the first seven races. If you look even further back, to the 2008 Formula 1 season, Lewis Hamilton chalked up the fastest lap time during testing and he went on to be crowned world champion.

I know it’s not a proven formula and I certainly wouldn’t bet my house on it but Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull team are already going into the 2011 season as champions which means they have the advantage and now that Vettel has really set the standard in Valencia, it can only add to the momentum.

Granted, testing continues today and tomorrow with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso taking to the track again tomorrow before team mate Felipe Massa takes over testing on Thursday so we could well see Vettel’s lap time beaten. In fact Vettel himself told the BBC that “It’s difficult to say [how our main rivals are faring], because we haven't seen all the cars, particularly the new McLaren.

Meanwhile, the rumour mill is in full flow as press have linked Sebastian Vettel with a move to one of the bigger F1 teams like Ferrari or Mercedes. The rumour was given legs by the fact that the 23 year old is hot property at the moment and his contract with the ‘lesser’ Red Bull team is due to come to an end after this season (unless he chooses to renew). Felipe Massa could be on his way out at Ferrari if his performance doesn’t improve in 2011 so the pundits reckon if Vettel is going to make a move, it is likely to be to the Italian team. Vettel has labelled the rumours as “silly”, saying journalists are merely “filling during the off-season” so I guess we will have to wait and see whether a move is on the cards or if it truly is idle gossip.

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