MONTREAL - It has been a very good Formula One season so far for 23-year-old Sebastian Vettel.
So good, in fact, that in only his third year as an F1 pilot he is already being compared to the greatest drivers in world championship history.
This would be the same young German who at this point last season was being written off by many as a mistake-prone, not ready for prime time underachiever.
Remember that Vettel, after the first six races of 2010, had registered only a single victory and a pair of podium finishes for the Red Bull Racing squad.
While he did re-group enough to earn his and Red Bull’s first championship, there were enough gaps in his record to introduce serious doubt into the mix about his chances to repeat this season.
But here he is coming to the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with five victories in the first six rounds of this season’s world championship.
And in Vettel’s only loss — at China — he finished second to Lewis Hamilton.
A win by Vettel in Canada would match the best ever start in F1 history — a mark now held by Michael Schumacher who won six of the first seven races in 2004.
Schumacher went on to win 12 of the first 13 races that season — earning his record seventh F1 championship in the process.
Vettel’s quick start is also being compared to that of Nigel Mansell, who finished first or second in 12 races in 1992.
There are still some in the F1 paddock, however, who are not yet convinced he is another Schumacher or Mansell in the making.
Vettel, of course, has no such doubts.
At a promotional stop on his first day in Montreal as he was preparing for Friday’s free practice session at the 13-turn, 4.361 km Ile Notre Dame track, Vettel told reporters he learned from his mistakes in 2010 and so far hasn’t repeated them.
“It’s very different from last year, but surely after the mistakes I made last year, I tried to learn,” he said. “You push yourself to the limit all the time, so it’s natural to make mistakes.
“So this year, obviously we have had a very good start but there’s still a long way to go, so I hope we continue the style we had in the first couple of races and we will have another good weekend here.”
Vettel has set the tone for each of his first five wins right from the first free practice where he has usually led the grid, or been 1-2 with his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber.
He also said if there are mistakes to be made, he wants to make them in that free practice.
“Hopefully (mistakes) happen in free practice and not in the race, so it has no effect,” Vettel said. “It’s part of racing and nobody’s perfect, so we all try to push harder in order to try and go faster, and sometimes mistakes do happen. But I guess the most important thing is that they don’t happen twice.”
The Red Bull driver holds a commanding 58-point lead over McLaren rival Lewis Hamilton as the series comes to Montreal.
Webber sits 64 points back, Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Jenson Button is 67 back and two-time champion Fernando Alonso is 74 back for Ferrari.
Last season the championship was in doubt right up until the final race.
At the rate Vettel is winning this season the drama could be gone before the series hits Silverstone and the British Grand Prix in July.
His rivals should be concerned because Vettel likes his chances for a sixth 2011 win in Canada.
“It’s a bit similar to Albert Park in Melbourne,” he said. “It’s a great race. I’m really looking forward to it.”
If he does put his McLaren team on the top step of the podium on Sunday, the remainder of the F1 season will surely be a race for second place.