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Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany smiles during a news conference at the Interlagos racetrack to prepare for this Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix F1 race in Sao Paulo. (SERGIO MORAES/REUTERS)
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany smiles during a news conference at the Interlagos racetrack to prepare for this Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix F1 race in Sao Paulo. (SERGIO MORAES/REUTERS)

Motorsports

Vettel driving to match his team’s third consecutive season win Add to ...

With Sebastian Vettel looking for his third consecutive world championship this weekend in Brazil, many fans may have missed that he’s already been beaten to the mark by his team.

The Red Bull squad became the 2012 constructor champion in Austin, Tex., last Sunday when Vettel crossed the U.S. Grand Prix finish line in second place, a result that made the team only the fourth Formula One outfit to win three titles in a row. The constructors' championship goes to the team whose drivers score the most total points combined.

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A key figure in the triple play for Red Bull is its chief technical officer Adrian Newey, who is the only designer to win world championships with three different teams.

“Getting a third title shows we’re not a flash in the pan; we’ve managed to stay at the top, to understand the car and maintain consistency which is not easy at all,” said Newey who joined the team in 2006.

“The first title was amazing because when I left McLaren for Red Bull, it was a bit of a career gamble, I was joining with a dream of perhaps trying to win races in the future with the team that I’d been involved with more or less from the start. To actually fulfill that dream and to achieve three titles has been amazing.”

Red Bull joined F1 eight seasons ago after buying the former Jaguar team based in Milton Keynes, U.K., just north of London.

While Red Bull wrapped up the team trophy in last weekend’s race, Vettel goes into Sunday’s season finale at São Paulo’s Interlagos Circuit with a 13-point lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

Although fans gravitate toward watching who takes the drivers’ crown, it’s not so with the teams. Not only does the constructors’ title come with a bonus of several million dollars in prize money, but it is also the best way to gauge how a team measures up against its competition.

Although Vettel’s talent plays a huge role in winning races, the team’s 550 employees work behind the scenes to make sure he has the tools to do the job. Their tasks includes adapting to changes in technical regulations, figuring out how to get the most from the tires, coming up with optimum race strategy in every grand prix, and finding fixes when things go wrong.

And staying at the front for an extended run also means hours of hard development work in the ongoing season to keep up with the constantly improving competition while simultaneously designing a winning car for the next year’s campaign.

In addition, it bestows paddock bragging rights in a sport which many forget is all about teamwork.

In a Twitter discussion this week on the subject, Red Bull driver Mark Webber’s performance engineer Gavin Ward, who hails from Toronto, succinctly tweeted how the rank and file feel about winning the team title: “Unlike most fans, most team members feel it’s more important to win the constructors’ than drivers’.”

The statistics for the Red Bull squad over the past three years show they have plenty to crow about. In 57 starts over the three seasons, Red Bull’s Webber-Vettel driver pairing has 41 poles, 28 wins, and 61 podiums.

Nevertheless, Red Bull still has a long way to go to topple Ferrari from the record books. The Scuderia holds the mark for consecutive titles after it took six straight beginning in 1999 during the Michael Schumacher years. The others who took three or more consecutive constructors’ titles are McLaren (four: 1988-1991) and Williams (three: 1992-1994). Ferrari also scored three in a row from 1975 to 1977. Overall, Ferrari has the most constructors’ crowns with 16, followed by Williams at nine and McLaren with eight.

Should Vettel take his third title on Sunday, it will be only the second time in F1 history that the same team and driver combination have won both championships in three consecutive seasons. The other was Ferrari and Schumacher, who each scored five consecutive titles beginning in 2000.

When it comes to second in the constructor standings, Ferrari has the upper hand over third place McLaren, but by only 14 points. With 43 constructor points up for grabs in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, the scarlet team can’t relax. Considering that it needs a top performance to give Alonso a shot at the driver’s title, the Scuderia will likely pull out all the stops in São Paulo.

After Lewis Hamilton scored an impressive victory in the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Tex., last Sunday in his penultimate race for McLaren, he may also play a central role in who wins the drivers’ title.

Although the performance seems to indicate Hamilton will be a favourite to take a second consecutive victory this weekend in Brazil, he may also have added incentive at Interlagos as the Sunday’s race could be his last realistic shot at the top step of the podium for a while.

The 2008 world champion leaves for Mercedes at the end of the season, a team that does not seem to be going in the right direction. Mercedes scored its maiden pole and win in the third race of year in China and it seemed things were looking up after some early tire wear issues. Instead, the wheels fell off and the team went backward as the season progressed.

Mercedes hasn’t scored a podium since Schumacher finished third at the European Grand Prix in late June. Since then, it has managed only one top-5 result in 11 starts. To make matters worse, the team has not been able to get a top-10 finish in any of the past five races.

Overall, in 19 races this year, Mercedes has one win, one pole, three podiums. The 136 points it has scored so far in 2012 is 29 fewer than it amassed in the 19-race season last year. It is fifth in the constructor standings, only 12 points ahead of Sauber. On the other hand, it is 166 points behind fourth place Lotus. To put the team’s performance in perspective, Red Bull has scored more than three times the points managed by Mercedes this year.

While Hamilton insisted that he’d like to be part of building a winning team à la Schumacher and Ferrari in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it looks more and more like finding success will be a huge undertaking for both.

It is thought in the paddock that Hamilton is not one of the top drivers when it comes to developing a car. Although he knows what he wants when he’s sitting in the cockpit, there’s an underlying feeling with some that Hamilton doesn’t know how to develop the car to get it to the place he needs.

“I think next year will be very difficult for both him and Mercedes,” said one former F1 technical director.

“Also, McLaren will have their problems as well, with Jenson [Button] being very defined with his car requirements and [newly signed 2012 sophomore Sergio] Pérez a bit of an unknown.”

This week, Button seemed to confirm the uncertainty about Pérez’s possible performance, saying he didn’t expect his new teammate to be a threat to run at the front or win early in 2013.

Ironically, Pérez goes into his last race with Sauber trying to overtake Hamilton’s new team in constructors’ points.

With Hamilton dropping down the grid to Mercedes and McLaren possibly not having the stuff to stay at the front, the evidence points to a 2013 season where fans will see Alonso and Vettel renew their battle for the drivers’ crown while Ferrari and Red Bull will fight over the constructors’ as the Milton Keynes squad and driver go for four in a row.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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