By Alan Baldwin
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - After securing his fourth successive Formula One title last Sunday, Sebastian Vettel can now equal the longest winning streak in the sport's modern era at the same circuit where he won his first.
The 26-year-old Red Bull driver, whose victory in the day-to-night race at Yas Marina in 2010 made him the youngest of world champions, has won the last six grands prix and is now on the brink of matching fellow-German Michael Schumacher's 2004 run of seven for Ferrari.
The only man to win more consecutive races was Italian Alberto Ascari, whose feat of nine in a row was spread over the 1952 and 1953 seasons at a time when the calendar was far shorter than the current globetrotting 19.
Vettel will be the favorite in Abu Dhabi, a race he was won twice in the four years of its existence, after becoming Formula One's youngest quadruple champion with a win in India.
Anyone who imagines that the German might ease off now, his mind perhaps still coming to terms with the magnitude of his achievements and the post-race partying, underestimates just how much he wants to rewrite the record books.
"Absolutely," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner when asked whether he and his driver still cared about the last three races of the championship. "There's three to go, it's like three FA Cup finals.
"We're going to go and give it everything all the way to the last race," added the Briton.
British bookmakers William Hill offered odds of 7/4 on Vetttel, who has 10 wins in 16 races this year, taking the last three grands prix and equaling Ascari's record.
The more adventurous punter could also secure odds of 16/1 on the German winning the next four titles in a row - surprisingly low considering the magnitude of the task and changing regulations next year that many hope will shake up the established order.
Kimi Raikkonen was last year's memorable winner for Lotus, the 2007 champion's first victory for the team, after telling his race engineer to "leave me alone, I know what I'm doing'.
Lotus turned the famously taciturn Finn's rebuke into a positive, turning it into a T-shirt slogan, but they were less amused by an outburst of bad language between the pit wall and driver in India last weekend.
That has seemed symptomatic of the changed dynamic since Raikkonen announced he was joining Ferrari next season, with French team mate Romain Grosjean coming more and more to the fore while the Finn's form has dipped.
"I had a good result there last year but I had a very boring race there the first time I visited in 2009. I'd prefer to have another good result," said Raikkonen in typically deadpan fashion.
Grosjean has finished third in the last three races and has to be considered a contender for his first Formula One win.
"Certainly in this latter part of the season, our latest car with the revised Pirelli tyres seems to work very well and I can get a good performance from it at different circuits," he said.
Lewis Hamilton, a winner in Abu Dhabi for McLaren in 2011, and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg will be hoping the car plays to its strengths as they try to consolidate second place in the constructors' championship ahead of Ferrari.
Ferrari, almost the home team considering the giant Ferrari World theme park next to the circuit, are four points behind Mercedes with Fernando Alonso second in the drivers' standings.
Hamilton made clear in India that he wanted to make the year's final races "ones to cherish".
"I'm going to be 29 next year so I'm not looking forward to that," he laughed. "This is the end of my seventh year. I don't want to wish the days by because before you know it, my career will be over.
"I'm just going to try and be the best I can ever be and see what I can get from them."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)