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Red Bull unveil 2011 challenger, with Vettel quickest in opening test

Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel got behind the wheel of his 2011 racecar for the first time in Valencia on Tuesday. The young German promptly topped the timesheets in the first day of pre-season testing.

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates with a German flag after becoming Formula One World Champion

It's only testing, but Vettel's back on top already

Germany's Sebastian Vettel drove the car in which he will try to defend his Formula One world championship for the first time on Tuesday. Hours after Vettel and his teammate Mark Webber unveiled the first iteration of Red Bull's 2011 challenger, the RB7, the 23-year-old was on track in Valencia for the first pre-season test of the year. He set the fastest time of the day.

Testing times, especially ones set so early in the pre-season, must always be taken with a big pinch of salt, and Vettel was cagey when asked about his chances of retaining his championship.

"As usual it's impossible to predict," Vettel told reporters in Valencia. "Everyone starts with zero points, so everyone has the same chance to win the world championship this year."

Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Ross Brawn at the launch of the W02

'Team Germany' didn't deliver the goods last time out, but Schumi (left) and co expect more in 2011

Vettel described his triumph in 2010, when he became the youngest F1 champion of all time, as a very proud memory.

"But now it's 2011, and there's another job to do, so we move to the next challenge, which is trying to do the same again."

Only eight Formula One drivers have ever won back-to-back world titles, including Germany's only other F1 champ, Michael Schumacher, who once secured a record five in succession.

Schumi promises podiums

42-year-old Schumacher was also behind the wheel of his 2011 chariot, the Mercedes GP W02, for the first time on Tuesday. Team boss Ross Brawn described the new car as "unrecognizable" from the somewhat disappointing 2010 model.

After a lackluster comeback to the sport last season, when F1's most successful racer never recorded a top three finish and was soundly beaten by teammate Nico Rosberg, Schumacher expressed optimism that he could rack up his 155th career podium, and maybe his 92nd victory, in 2011.

"We have said it several times already, but we are really building something big together," Schumacher said. "I am very confident that this season we will be standing on the podium much more regularly - ideally in the middle."

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at the launch of the RB7

Vettel and Webber will hope this Red Bull car is as dominant as its predecessor was in 2010

This three-day test in Valencia is the first of four pre-season testing sessions, during which time Formula One's top teams will continue to improve and develop their 2011 cars. The first race of the season will take place in Bahrain on March 13.

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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