SPA, Belgium Sebastian Vettel failed to win the last three Formula One races and spent his summer holiday trying to figuring out why.
He and his Red Bull team think they discovered the answers, and theyre keen to put them into practice at the Belgian Grand Prix this week.
The defending F1 champion looked unstoppable while winning five of the opening six races, but then his returns dipped a little.
Since his flying start, Vettel has won only one of the last five races, and was beaten at the British, German and Hungarian GPs heading into the summer break to offer his rivals some hope of catching the championship leader.
With McLaren gaining in confidence and speed, and two-time former champion Fernando Alonso finding his form after Ferraris miserable start, the Red Bull team had much thinking to do over the last month.
The last couple of races, we know we might not have been on the top of our game, but I think weve understood and learned quite a lot, so we will see where we are this weekend, Vettel said. The last three races were pretty different in terms of conditions, especially Nuerburgring was a bit of a surprise with very cold temperatures, whereas in the past weve always been very competitive (there).
Vettel, F1s youngest ever champion, admits his confidence was dented when Alonso first beat him at Silverstone, and then McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button dominated him at Nuerburgring and Hungaroring.
The 24-year old Vettel demanded improvements from his Red Bull team after failing to convert another pole position into victory in Hungary, and following his frustrating fourth-placed finish in Germany.
Its basic homework; its nothing wrong with the car itself; its just trying to get everything up to (speed) quick enough where we seem to struggle a bit, Vettel said on Thursday.
After analyzing his last three races over and over again, Vettel did find some time to relax, however, and he feels reinvigorated after a recent trip to the United States.
I went to Orlando and then to Miami for a few days. ... I had a good time, Vettel said. Enjoying the sun, enjoying the weather, enjoyed the fresh air. (I) enjoyed the summer after Hungary and England; I think it was a good call.
Vettel will aim for his ninth pole of the season at Spa, with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber clinching the other three so far.
Its not our favorite circuit, because theres a lot of straights here, more than the other tracks, said Vettel, who finished 15th at Spa last year.
After that race, Hamilton led overall from Webber with Vettel third.
This time, Hamilton sits in third spot behind Webber and needing to catch Vettel.
The problem for Hamilton is that he is 88 points adrift of Vettel, while Alonso is 89 points back, and Button is 100 back. Webber is 85 points behind Vettel in second spot.
Still, with seven races following Spa, Vettels rivals are not giving up their title bids.
I am well aware that the championship situation is what it is, but that does not mean we have thrown in the towel, Alonso said. We always set out trying to win every race, and we will do the maths at the end.
That Alonso has an outside chance of catching Vettel is a testament to his ability, seeing as he waited until the Turkish GP the fourth race of the season to even get on the podium.
The Spaniard finished third in Istanbul and bettered that with a second place in Monaco.
He then secured two more second-place finishes at the European GP in Valencia and in Germany, either side of Silverstone, and took third in Hungary.
Alonso would have closed the gap further had he not retired from the rain-soaked Canadian GP, and he also was very close to catching Vettel in an incident-packed race in Monaco.
It will be important to bring home some good results (in Spa) because the team has put in so much effort to get back on terms after a difficult start, Alonso said. All our guys and the fans deserve it.
The 4.3-mile Spa circuit is the longest on the calendar, and famed corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont push drivers to the limit.
To ensure better track safety, motor sports governing body has banned the use of the DRS overtaking device at Eau Rouge corner during practice, which starts on Friday. The DRS device increases speed by reducing cars downforce.
We think this is the correct safety measure to have taken at such a fast, demanding corner, the FIAs race director Charlie Whiting said.