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Lone star Vettel aims for eight in a row

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany gestures as he celebrates with the Red Bull team after winning the Abu Dhabi F1 Gran
Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany gestures as he celebrates with the Red Bull team after winning the Abu Dhabi F1 Gran

By Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) - Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel can shine above all others in the Lone Star State this weekend by becoming the first Formula One driver to chalk up eight successive victories in a single season.

The second U.S. Grand Prix held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, is likely to see the 26-year-old German take another of retired compatriot Michael Schumacher's records.

Already the youngest quadruple world champion, and first to win his first four titles consecutively, Vettel is on a remarkable roll as he arrives for the penultimate race of a dominant year.

He won the previous race in Abu Dhabi by a massive margin to equal Schumacher's 2004 run of seven in a row and, with 11 victories to his credit in 2013, is also on course to equal Schumacher's record 13 wins in a season.

Vettel has shown no let-up since he won the title in India last month, telling reporters only last week that he was confident the best was yet to come and he was already fully focused on the U.S. Grand Prix.

"You should always look forward," he said on his return to the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes, an unremarkable facility on a business park in an unglamorous part of central England, to thank staff.

"We've had many, many great moments, very special moments, but I believe the biggest moment in my life is yet to come. Otherwise it would be quite sad at the age of 26 to look forward and say the greatest moment has been (and gone) and have nothing to look forward to."

SECOND PLACE

The championships are won but the battle for second in the constructors' standings, with significant financial sums at stake for every placing in the pecking order, is still being waged with Ferrari chasing Mercedes and worrying about Lotus behind.

Only 11 points separates Mercedes and Ferrari with Lotus 26 behind the Italians.

The unexpected absence of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen from the last two races, for sudden back surgery although the Finn had also complained of not being paid by Lotus, has triggered all kinds of controversy.

Ferrari will not have been saddened by their past and future driver's decision to end the championship early, taking away much of Lotus's firepower although his French team mate Romain Grosjean has become an increasingly strong podium contender.

Who replaces Raikkonen, who is returning to Ferrari next season after two years at Lotus, in Austin and Brazil has been a talking point since Sunday.

The Finn's compatriot Heiki Kovalainen - a former driver for the Enstone-based team when they were Renault - looking more likely than Lotus's Italian reserve Davide Valsecchi.

Mercedes will fancy their chances of a strong weekend, with Britain's Lewis Hamilton triumphant in Texas last year for McLaren and also at Indianapolis in 2007 when the U.S. Grand Prix was held there.

Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, loves the country and the tricky circuit.

"We're going into the final two races with one aim in mind and that's to finish second (overall). "It would mean so much to everyone at the team and we're determined to achieve it," he said.

McLaren's Sergio Perez will also be very much at the centre of media attention, with plenty of Mexican fans coming to watch him but his future clouded by strong rumors that he will be replaced for 2014 by Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen.

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, whose departure from struggling Williams was announced on Monday, and Sauber's highly-rated Nico Hulkenberg can also expect plenty of questions as the driver merry-go-round picks up momentum.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)

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