|© Lars Baron/Getty Images/Red Bull Racing
As they get ready for the British Grand Prix this weekend, a sense of urgency seems to be creeping into the paddocks of Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes.
The talk on Thursday was dominated by the abrupt announcement that Red Bull's Mark Webber is leaving Formula 1 after the season. But for the teams competing for the drivers' championship, the focus remains on Webber's teammate, Sebastian Vettel.
"I think he's doing a fantastic job. I think he's been nearly perfect in all the races with no negative races, always performing well in qualifying and doing very good races," said Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who is second in the title race.
As the three-time defending champion, Vettel has shaken off some early season tyre troubles and a controversy with Webber at the Malaysian GP. He is back to his dominant best, with the surest sign being his performance at the Canadian GP earlier this month in which he beat Alonso by 14 seconds.
Vettel now has a 36 point-lead over Alonso with 12 races remaining. Lotus driver Raikkonen is another eight points back in third and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is another 11 points behind in fourth.
Vettel has tried to dampen down expectations that the championship is already his, insisting he was trailing at this time last season and needed a string of late-season victories to overtake Alonso. Should he win his fourth consecutive drivers' championship, Vettel would match the exploits of F1 legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
But his challengers understand they need to start beating Vettel.
"He's performing as the world champion that he is and they will be difficult to catch but I don't think it's impossible to close the gap," said Hamilton, who has had several podium finishes this season, including in Canada.
"From our side, we've already closed quite a huge deficit already so we're happy where we are. But of course we want to do better," he said. "Fernando's a lot closer. I think once they sort out their qualifying they'll be able to match the Red Bulls, if not beat them. So we need to do a lot more work."
Hamilton said his team is still having tyre trouble and is struggling to translate the pace it gets in qualifying to the race.
Meanwhile, Vettel's Red Bull teammate Webber announced Thursday morning that he's signed a multi-year contract and will compete in Porsche's new LMP1 sports prototype at the Le Mans 24 Hours race and in the world endurance championship next year.
The 36-year-old is having a tough season, having failed to win a grand prix and lying fifth in the drivers' championship, 63 points behind Vettel. But the Australian has done well at Silverstone -- having won two out of the past three races -- and is confident he can add to his nine victories and 36 podium finishes before leaving F1.
"It's been a happy hunting ground around here, in Formula 1 and also, years before that in the junior categories," he said. "The Red Bull car in the last few years has also been pretty strong here, so we're looking forward to certainly challenging for another victory."