Sebastian Vettel is not assuming he is on the verge of the 2011 Formula 1 world drivers' title despite his rivals admitting the German has all but beaten them this season.
The Red Bull driver is 92 points ahead of his teammate Mark Webber and 102 in front of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Vettel can afford not to finish the next three races and still maintain his lead in the championship with just seven races (or 175 points) left up for grabs.
Yet in spite of this advantage – which could net him the title as early as Singapore – Vettel remained cautious when quizzed at Monza about retaining his world crown.
"I know that we are in a good position, but the championship is still open and we need to keep the focus and keep the attention to every small detail and make sure we always get the best out of ourselves and out of the car for every single race," he said. "It's the same again for here – it's a circuit that maybe doesn't fit to our car as much as others but then again we don't know, so tomorrow will be important and then maybe there is a chance to win. I think we have to go for it.
"If it is out of reach then it would be stupid to do so – it always depends the situation to judge what you can do on a weekend. But from a championship point of view, we are in a strong position and we have been working very hard and made few mistakes so far and I think we deserve to be in that position but this doesn't guarantee that it will all be fine at the next races.
"I think the example of last year is a very good one because we saw how quickly things could change. Fernando won here and then in Singapore, and before here people had said that he was out of the championship and then going into the last race he was the championship leader, so.... Obviously, it looks a little bit different this year but I think you have to be aware of how quickly things can change."
Vettel was the one who snatched the title from Alonso's grasp in the 2010 finale in Abu Dhabi and admits that he has preferred to control the championship campaign from the front, rather than having to chase his rivals down as he did last year.
"I prefer the position I am in now, for sure," he said. "Obviously, you know that when you are doing the hunting then you have to deliver the results otherwise there is the threat that the guys ahead will edge away from you so it's a bit different this year. But the most important race to be leading the championship is the last one – that's really what we are after."
Vettel added that he believed becoming World Champion had had a positive effect on him and his team, and that knowledge gained from winning titles had blended extra confidence into the package's competitiveness.
"Obviously, in this championship this year the car is different from last year but I think as a team we have learned a lot," he said. "Things that you see like our pit stops are very good on average, but most of the things you don't really see on TV. We really improved a lot of small things – we have come together, more consistent, and deliver the results with fewer mistakes. I think there are still areas where we can improve, but from an attitude point of view the whole team is calmer and we know what we can do. We are not panicking as easily and I think we have become much stronger.
"You can see this in races even where we struggled against ourselves and did not get the optimum, where others simply were quicker than us but we still managed to finish on the podium, or fourth in Germany. All in all, I think we are going in the right direction."