Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel has endured a difficult 2019 but retains belief he can compete with the next generation of Formula One talent. Photo: Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo

BERLIN  Four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel has not added to his title collection in five years with Ferrari - but despite younger competition from inside the team and out, he is not yet ready to step back from the fray.

Vettel has duelled, unsuccessfully, with Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in the last three seasons but could now finish behind his own team-mate, Charles Leclerc, with just Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix remaining in the season.

And with Red Bull's Max Verstappen also widely tipped as a future champion, is he concerned he could become a discontinued model?

"No. Definitely not," Vettel told dpa in an interview conducted at the Brazilian Grand Prix. "I think age is not so decisive and important with us as in some other sports."

In general the old adage applies, according to Vettel: "If you are good enough, you're still young enough. And turned round - if you are are good enough, you are not too young."

Vettel started the season as number one driver at Ferrari, who were looking to end Mercedes' run of dominance. But despite a promising test phase and mid-season rally, they were well beaten again.

And now aged 32, Vettel finds himself outscored by the 22-year-old Leclerc 249 points to 230. Vettel has won once, Leclerc twice, and the younger driver has also claimed more pole positions this term.

Vettel is contracted until 2020 and will need to prove himself once more. But regardless of what happens, he does not regret his move from Red Bull to the Scuderia.

"If someone pursues their job with passion then it is exactly like the last five years for me," he said. "I definitely do not have the feeling that I've been robbed of the five years."

With life off the track seemingly being lived ever quicker, Vettel is relaxed about the transience of fame and success.

"In a world where everything is as fast-paced as it is today, both things go very fast," he said. On one hand, this is a "pleasure because what I do is go fast, drive fast. Outside of the car it is more of a horror.

"There are many things I cannot get behind. I can, for example, not be happy when judgements are made so quickly or things are so quickly forgotten."

Vettel is not ready to be forgotten just yet but admitted while he does not have "concrete" thoughts on retirements, "it is normal that at a moment in time of your career, after 12 years [in F1] like me, you think ahead and wonder what could come then.

"I find it important to make thoughts early," he said. "I don't think it's good if you quit something that was so life-defining and then have no plan how it should go on."

The perfect time to call it a day would be when "you can decide for yourself 'I quit'," said Vettel. "That also means that you are comfortable with the decision and can say 'now it was enough'.

"Not perfect is the time when it is dictated from the outside. For me it is clear: if I stop once, then I will stop and will not come back. You simply have to be happy and be able to say 'that was it'."

dpa