Embattled Vettel vows 'maximum' in record F1 bid
Red Bull driver Sebastien Vettel of Germany smiles durng a press conference ahead of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 13, 2014 - by Paul Crock
The young German clinched his fourth straight world title in 2013 with a record-equalling nine wins in a row, matching the feat of Italy's Alberto Ascari 60 years previously.
Victory on Sunday would give Vettel an unprecedented 10th consecutive win and a major boost in his attempt to match Michael Schumacher by claiming five titles in as many years.
But Vettel's new Red Bull car is struggling to adapt to new technical requirements which include a turbocharged engine, energy recovery system and fuel limit.
He tipped Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, an impressive performer in testing, as the most likely winner in Melbourne -- but warned that Red Bull wasn't waving the white flag just yet.
"It's difficult to have any sort of expectations for most of us," Vettel told reporters.
"But it's a long season so I'm going out here not trying to just to make it round. I'm going out here to push to the maximum and do the best I can and then we will see where we are.
"The target for sure is to finish and to finish in the best possible position.
"For the rest of the year we are a strong team, we have a lot of good people on board and we have strong resources so I'm confident we should progress as the season goes on."
Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, played down his chances in what is an unusually unpredictable race owing to the large number of technical changes.
"All the media are talking us up. Favourite driver, favourite team... I just don't know what's going to happen this weekend," said the Briton, adding that he expected stiff competition from team-mate Nico Rosberg.
"It's very technical this year and everyone is in the same boat and everyone is trying to see where the advantage is going to be between the two drivers," Hamilton said, referring to Rosberg.
"From race to race I think you're going to see one time he's ahead, and another time I'm ahead, the same that you saw last year. The goal is to be ahead on the track."
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, teamed this year with fellow former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, also said there was great uncertainty before the season-opener.
"It's very difficult to tell how competitive we are at the moment and we will know some answers in the next 24-48 hours," said the Spaniard.
"I think the car itself and the technology that Formula One has brought this year is a little complex for everyone and we are learning and developing the car every day."
The plight of Schumacher, who remains in an induced coma following a skiing accident in December, will provide a sombre backdrop to the start of the new season.
In a tribute to the seven-time world champion, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa will race with an "MS" emblazoned on his helmet in his first start for new team Williams.
"I always think about him every day. I'm praying for him every day," Massa said. "So I hope everything can go back and he'll be okay.
"For sure it was a shame to see what has happened, but I keep thinking about him. He's on my helmet and I'll keep praying and hope that things can be okay for him and he's coming back."
Schumacher's family said on Wednesday that the German great was showing "small, encouraging signs of recovery" from his severe head injuries.