Sebastian Vettel has played down talk that he is the man to beat in Formula 1 after his strong start to the season, insisting he is still in catch-up mode.
Although his Red Bull Racing team has started in pole position at the first three races of the season, Vettel's reliability troubles in Bahrain and Australia cost him valuable points and has allowed Felipe Massa to lead the title chase. It is the point standings, not the form of the cars, that Vettel says is what counts in F1 – regardless of whether his team enjoys a performance advantage over the opposition.
"If you look at the World Championship [standings], there is no gap – we are behind," said Vettel. "We have to catch up; we have to keep going as we did last race and catch up with the others.
"For the people, for you [media], I am probably the man to beat, but for myself I don't think about these things very much. The approach is the same as last weekend. We try to get everything out and try to win. We have a very strong car, we are in a good way, the team is working fantastically well at the moment and we try to win."
Vettel thinks that despite Red Bull Racing's form in the first few races of the year, there is no guarantee his outfit will be at the front of the field in China this weekend.
"As far as I remember, we won the last race so that puts you in the position that you are the favorite to win again – but it goes race by race," he said. "Still, we have to do a very good job, similar to Malaysia, to get everything right. We target to have the same kind of result but it is a long way. The job starts in practice and we will see what happens by the checkered flag."
He added: "I don't think there is too big a gap between us and others. If you take Malaysia, the race we come from, we were in a bit of a luxury position because some of the quick teams failed in qualifying and were not qualifying at the top.
"I think the race would have been a bit different if we would have started all in the front – especially McLaren looked competitive in Malaysia. You cannot say that they were quicker or we were quicker than them. It is not that we have a massive advantage, as some teams had five years ago, but last year and this year it seems there are more than two teams able to win races."