Victorious Red Bull unappreciated
THE extent of Red Bull's achievement in winning both Formula One World Championships last season is as yet unappreciated, both inside and outside the team, says Sebastian Vettel.
Reflecting on 2011 in the team's hometown of Milton Keynes this weekend, the 24-year-old double world champion said the difference between the leading teams last season was actually extraordinarily small.
"It will take time to understand how special  really was. It will be a season we will look back to and always be very proud of, because they really don't happen every year, and we have to realise that," said Vettel, who won 11 out of 19 grands prix, captured 15 pole positions - breaking Nigel Mansell's record - and finished on the podium in every race but two.
"[Mechanically] the year was pretty smooth, really faultless - we had no issues with the reliability, except Brazil, and we still managed to finish that race in second place. Other than that nothing went wrong from a car point of view - the retirements we had were Mark's [team-mate Mark Webber] crash in Monza and the puncture I suffered in Abu Dhabi.
"But car-wise, engine-wise, everything was better than expected, and everything is built on the limit, you're pushing in every area and sometimes things might break."
The team was racing on the edge, according to Vettel, because the competition from the likes of McLaren and Ferrari was ferocious.
"It was extremely competitive, much closer than the scoreboard indicated. Sometimes this year we had cars, for instance in Japan, we had the first four [finishing] within five seconds. Ten years back there was probably a gap of 40 seconds between first and second. Gaps in qualifying, most of the time, were very small.
"We move on, and we're already focused on next season, but when you look back there were more than one or two highlights. There was Monaco, Monza, the championship decider in Japan, the motions afterwards, they are things you never really forget.
"Surely the target is to keep that up. Next year the cars will be slightly different, not a revolution, but regulations change a little bit again, so we have to adapt and the guys are pushing very hard to finalise the car."
Despite his record-breaking season, Vettel said he did not believe 2011 would prove to have been his pinnacle.
"Being 24, it would be quite sad if you said, 'That is it, that has been the highlight of my life, from now on it's only getting worse.' I hope, even if I one day retire from Formula One, that I do wake up in the morning and my best days are still to come. Otherwise I think it will be quite sad if there is nothing to look forward to in a professional life, but also in your personal life.
"The last couple of years have been very successful, but I don't think anyone is lacking motivation, no one is asking what we are doing because we have already achieved so much."
In that respect changes in the sport's regulations might prove a blessing in disguise for Red Bull, in that the requirement to make aerodynamic changes, including removing the controversial exhaust-blown diffusers, is forcing the team to look for advantages.
"They've taken those toys back, which is a shame," Vettel said. "The guys are searching and trying to find something new and find the edge like we did last year, otherwise I think with the speed of development today in Formula One, very quickly you would start to go backwards."
Testing for the new season starts in February, but in the meantime driving the RB7 around Milton Keynes town centre to express the team's gratitude for their local support was the last of a hectic series of past-season sponsorship and media engagements for the German.