DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel is aiming to build on his late-season resurgence and extend his lead in the Formula One standings when he heads back to the desert for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.
Abu Dhabi holds fond memories for Vettel, who clinched his first title there with a victory in 2010.
While he won't be lifting the drivers' trophy at the Yas Marina track this year, the two-time defending champion is the favorite for a third straight drivers' title after his victory Sunday at the Indian Grand Prix.
The Indian GP was the German driver's fourth straight win — completing a clean sweep of F1's Asian swing — and gave him a 13-point lead over championship rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari with three races to go.
Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus is 67 points back in the standings in third spot, while Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, is another six points back.
After his win last weekend, Vettel was careful to play down his chances of clinching the season title and joining greats Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the only men to win three drivers' championships in a row.
"If we speak about the world championship, obviously this was another good step for us, but still a long way to go and we have seen this year how quickly things can change," Vettel said. "There's a lot more to come and we'll try to take things step by step."
Alonso, who finished second in India, insisted he remains in the hunt while acknowledging adjustments would have to be made to his Ferrari ahead of Abu Dhabi. At mid-year, he had a 44-point lead over Vettel, until crashes in Belgium and Japan.
"We can fight the Red Bulls, but at the moment we still don't have a car capable of winning," Alonso said last Sunday.
"I think we need to bring some new parts to Abu Dhabi, hopefully improve a little bit more the competitiveness of the car, try to be a little bit closer to Red Bulls on Saturday and hopefully on Sunday as well," he said. "Obviously ... (the) championship is the main target, so we need to recover some points. It will be nice to finish in front of Sebastian in Abu Dhabi, whatever the position it is."
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali insisted his team will keep fighting for a first championship since 2007.
"Fernando and Ferrari will not slacken their efforts by a centimeter, right to the end of this long season," he said. "There are three more (GPs) to go, up against very strong opponents, but they are not unbeatable.
"I recall that in 1982 the Italian football team was definitely not the strongest, but went on to win that year's World Cup. We believe in our chances and I'm sure that so do all our fans."
While 2007 champion Raikkonen is still mathematically in the mix, the Finn has acknowledged his "disappointing" finish in India all but ends his title hopes.
"The drivers' championship battle is pretty much gone for me," he said after his seventh-place finish. "Hopefully in the next race we can be a bit smarter and use our race pace to take some more championship points. The car is good, and if we manage to qualify higher I think we will be in a strong position."
Abu Dhabi has been kind to Vettel in recent years. He won in 2009 as well as 2010 — the latter race partly because of mistakes by Ferrari.
Alonso led the championship ahead of Webber in 2010 coming into the then season-ending race at Abu Dhabi, only to fall out of contention when his pit-stop strategy backfired.
Webber came in on lap 11 to change from soft to hard tires and Ferrari, viewing Webber as the main threat for the title, chose to bring in Alonso four laps later to make sure he'd come back out in front of the Red Bull driver.
That put them behind a host of lesser-ranked drivers, led by Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg, who created a permanent road block to their title chances. With Alonso stuck behind Petrov, Red Bull's Vettel clinched the title by winning the race.
Last year, Vettel had wrapped up the title and crashed on the opening lap in Abu Dhabi after a puncture to his right rear tire. He limped back to the pits, but the suspension of the car was too damaged to race.
Alonso couldn't take advantage, finishing second behind McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.