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    2011 F1 season is the season of the rookie

    London: Formula One has four rookie drivers this year and only one, Sauber's 21-year-old Mexican Sergio Perez, is younger than world champion Sebastian Vettel.

    It is all too easy, given everything that the 23-year-old German wunderkind has achieved on his rapid ascent to the pinnacle of world motorsport, to forget just how young the Red Bull driver is.

    Yes, Vettel still looks and behaves at times like a cheeky schoolboy but the sport's youngest points scorer, youngest pole sitter, youngest race winner and youngest champion has also shown a maturity way beyond his years.

    That much was evident this week when Red Bull announced the German had extended his contract to the end of 2014, having conducted the negotiations himself without the help of a manager.

    "For somebody so young to be in control of his own destiny in the manner that he has is very refreshing," team boss Christian Horner told reporters ahead of next week's season-opening race in Australia.

    "He doesn't have a big management group or organisation telling him what to do or where to do it. He is very much his own man and makes his own decisions."

    Vettel made some big mistakes last year, and was dubbed the 'crash kid' by McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh after a jarring collision with then-champion Jenson Button, but he also got more right than wrong over the 19 races.

    On far more occasions, he was let down by his car rather than his own errors. In fact, it was when the situation looked truly bleak that the youngster really revealed his inner strength.

    LUCKY PUNCH

    "If you look at the way he delivered in those final five races, especially after Korea where we all left the track absolutely on the floor having been convinced that (Ferrari's) Fernando (Alonso) had just taken an unassailable lead in the drivers' world championship, the guy that was most upbeat on that long flight home was Sebastian," said Horner.

    "He didn't give up, he never stopped believing that he could do it. In that last sector of the championship, he hit a purple patch of form that was just phenomenal."

    Red Bull won nine races last season, Vettel triumphant in five, and started 15 from pole position with four one-two finishes.

    Their success in taking both championships, their first titles, can be attributed to strong teamwork, considerable resources, a great car designed by Adrian Newey and two highly competitive drivers.

    Those who thought Red Bull were simply a marketing concern intent on selling cans of energy drink and having a good time had better think twice.

    Vettel's contract extension, along with other key players such as Newey also being locked in, sent a clear signal to rivals that Red Bull are in for the long haul as serious contenders.

    "I think Red Bull has demonstrated now that it's not a flash in the pan, we've come a long way in a short space of time," said Horner, who has also pledged his future to the team.

    "My target and focus is, having achieved what many people believed was insurmountable, to go on and repeat that.

    "Half the challenge is getting there. The bigger challenge is staying there and that is very much our target and challenge this year," he added.

    "You have to pinch yourself at times that Red Bull have, in an industrial unit in Milton Keynes, beaten Ferrari and they've beaten McLaren. It's a hell of an achievement that we are keen to demonstrate wasn't a lucky punch."

    GOOD WINTER

    The new car has looked quick and reliable in testing, with rivals already worried that the champions have been keeping something in reserve so as not to appear too dominant.

    Vettel is battle-hardened and exudes the confidence that comes with having the number one on his car.

    Australian Mark Webber, with his contract up for renewal at the end of the season, has more of a mountain to climb after missing out on the title last year just when he seemed best placed to take it but is still hungry to win -- and particularly in Melbourne.

    "Mark's had a good winter, he's come back fully focused, he's brushed himself down after the disappointment of last year and I think goes into 2011 with his motivation higher than ever," said Horner.

    Webber had accused the team of favouring Vettel last season, describing himself as a number two -- ironic now that he actually has the number two on his car -- and Horner said both sides had learned from that.

    "Obviously things bubbled over a little bit last year on a couple of occasions. It was fairly unique for within a team to have both guys going for the world championship. And with that comes added pressures.

    "Both drivers have learned from that, I think the team have learned from that and I think as a group we are better equipped to deal with it," he added.