The Inside Line: Vettel has another F1 title in sight

Sebastian Vettel's dominance in the past three Grand Prix has now put him in the driver's seat to win this year's Formula One world championship.

In what had been a hotly contested battle for the driver's title, Vettel has turned the tables after consecutive wins in Singapore, Japan and Korea. The Red Bull driver trailed Fernando Alonso by 39 points following the Sept. 9 Italian Grand Prix. Vettel has since gained 45 points on Alonso.

After winning Sunday's Korean Grand Prix, Vettel moved atop the championship standings for the first time since the May 13 Spanish Grand Prix. Four races remain this season -- India (Oct. 28), Abu Dhabi (Nov. 4), Austin, Texas (Nov. 18) and Brazil (Nov. 25).

Vettel, who is attempting to win his third F1 championship, has had an up-and- down year all season, unlike his phenomenal season in 2011. After Red Bull experienced its share of mechanical and engine issues during pre-season testing, Vettel did not claim his first victory this year until the fourth Grand Prix, held April 22 in Bahrain.

His season turned for the worse in the June 24 European Grand Prix. After starting on the pole and leading the first 33 laps, holding a 20-second advantage at one point, he suffered a mechanical issue and was forced to retire with 24 laps remaining.

Vettel had rebounded somewhat after the European GP but experienced another mechanical problem in Italy, forcing his second retirement of the season.

Since Singapore, Vettel has returned to the same winning form he had last year. He scored 11 victories and 17 podium finishes in 19 Grand Prix. His 15 poles set a new season record in F1.

"For many months, it was something of a real roller coaster ride, but we finally found our strength again, and since Singapore it works," Vettel said. "(Sunday in Korea), the team did everything right, and I didn't do anything stupid. We sure want to keep it that way."

Vettel won last year's inaugural race in India and claimed victories in the 2010 events in Abu Dhabi and Brazil. F1 will run at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin for the first time this year.

"I'm looking forward to the next couple of races," he said. "We had a good last couple of races, but we've seen the championship is pretty much up and down. A lot of things can happen. What do we do? I think we have to focus on ourselves. We need to have our best possible results, and then we go from there."

But Vettel knows quite well that anything can happen during the next four Grand Prix, particularly with this season being as unpredictable as any other one in recent memory.

It appeared Alonso was the clear favorite to win the championship after Italy. But Alonso's somewhat comfortable points lead was significantly trimmed in Japan. He crashed on the opening lap when Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen made contact with him and punctured his left-rear tire.

In the Sept. 2 Belgian Grand Prix, Alonso also was involved in a horrifying multi-car crash on the first lap, which was triggered by Raikkonen's teammate, Romain Grosjean.

Alonso finished third in the Korean GP. He made his ninth podium appearance of the season, which is more than any other driver.

"We lost the lead by six points, but if we think how it went for us the last four or five races, with two retirements, nothing to do with the team, no mistakes from the team, not mechanical problems or anything like that, just some people flying over us and things like that," Alonso said. "With all these problems, being six points behind leaves open a lot of possibilities for us in the last four races."

The conclusion of this season could be much like the one we saw two years ago. Alonso held a 25-point lead over Vettel with two races to go. But Vettel's wins in Brazil and Abu Dhabi allowed him to clinch the championship by just four points over Alonso.

"There are still 100 points up for grabs, and I have a lead of six," Vettel said. "We have to focus on ourselves, and then let's see where it has taken us after the Brazilian Grand Prix."

Vettel has the most wins this year with four, compared to three for Alonso.