BERLIN — Sebastian Vettel aims to become the youngest driver to win a hat trick of titles when the longest Formula One season yet begins this weekend in Australia.
The 24-year-old German could better five-time winner Juan Manuel Fangio and compatriot Michael Schumacher, the record seven-time world champion for whom the 2012 season looks likely to be a second farewell.
"All good things come in threes, and that would of course be something great, but until then, there's a long way to go," Vettel said.
After Vettel's Red Bull team dominated the past two seasons, rivals look slightly more confident of their prospects for a season featuring a record six current and former world champions.
Heading into the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, all signs from preseason testing have shown that Ferrari and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso may struggle, but Lotus could be the big surprise. The former Renault team hired 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who returns after two years away from the series.
Red Bull's biggest challenge could come from McLaren. Last year's runnerup, Jenson Button, and teammate Lewis Hamilton, both former world champions, should contend.
Mercedes again turns to German pair Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. The team's progress could well affect any decision Schumacher, 43, makes about whether to continue.
"The car felt good from the first moment," he said. "We can say that we are very well prepared. But once again, what this means in relation to our competitors is something I can't judge until after the first race."
This season is a 20-race marathon that includes the inaugural race in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 18, the first race in the United States since 2007.