"Sebastian is a winner," Bernie Ecclestone confided, in that menacingly deliberate fashion, in his suite overlooking the Bahrain paddock. "I always say, 'Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser'."
Mr E, whose statement has been fleshed out eloquently by Sebastian Vettel's eight victories in 11 races since Sakhir, ought to know, given that he and the German wunderkind regularly bridge their 56-year age gap with games of backgammon. In those bonding sessions, Formula One's generalissimo has acquired precious insight into the man behind the mask. Such is the force field around Vettel that, even as a quadruple world champion, it can be easier to define him less by what he is than what he is not.
For a start he is not, despite two decades of Teutonic domination, Michael Schumacher's heir presumptive - indeed, he abhors the label 'baby Schumi' in his insistence that he has created his own style. He is not - despite an anti-Red Bull school of thought that claims the sport's drama has been killed off by an energy drink giant - a humourless android either. Instead, he boasts an unGerman grasp of the nuances of British comedy, reciting entire passages of Monty Python as his party trick.
Vettel's is an accomplishment forged primarily from an almost frightening work ethic. The son of a carpenter from Heppenheim, a modest market town 40 miles south of Frankfurt, he never enjoyed the luxury of family holidays and at karting tracks would even enlist his elder sister to record his lap times.
In his astonishing F1 career, burdened since adolescence by breathless predictions that he would become the next true great, he has remained every bit as blinkered. Even during that calmer window of preseason testing in Spain, he invariably does not leave the team garage until after nightfall. To such natural assiduousness he allies the most ruthless instinct and this, in 2013, is where everything has changed for Vettel. At the 2009 British Grand Prix his victory was greeted with a palpable warmth that left him "quite surprised". This summer at Silverstone, as his RB9 puttered to a halt in front of the grandstand, it was his failure that provoked cheers.
The tipping point came in March, in Malaysia, when Vettel disregarded orders with such brazenness in overtaking team-mate Mark Webber for the win that opinions of his character were revised at a stroke. "Mark is too slow," he muttered over the in-car radio. "Get him out of the way." Beneath that impish exterior, we suddenly realised, lurked the dark heart of a Machiavelli.
An abiding memory this season is of how Vettel, under ferocious inquisition at the next race in China, simply shrugged that he would not think twice about doing the same again. Webber had been so traumatised by his betrayal that he spent most of the intervening three weeks on his surfboard, and yet here was his supposed colleague vowing to traduce him once more. It does not exactly flatter Vettel that Webber, one of the most fair-dinkum Australians you could wish to meet, regards the younger man with such thinly disguised loathing.
Their antipathy stretches back to 2007, when a shunt off the track by the German at Suzuka prompted Webber to seethe: "Kids, they f--- you up." Vettel's psychological hold over his rival has endured to this day, and now that he marches further into history while his elder slides towards semi-retirement with Porsche, the two can hardly bear to be in the same country as one another. Within the fascinating inter-driver dynamic lies the clearest riposte to the fallacy that Vettel's four titles are all about the car.
Ludicrously, it is still argued that his championships should have an asterisk beside them that reads "with thanks to Adrian Newey". While Newey may be Red Bull's technical genius, the triumph is far from his alone. The record of individual wins during 2013 - Vettel 10, Webber 0 - tells you as much. Forensic analysis of Vettel's performances has proved his peerless driving skill, where he routinely pulls out a second-and-a-half lead on the opening lap and commits to the throttle earlier than his rivals dare.
Plus, nobody ought to forget that his maiden win at Monza in 2008 came not in one of Newey's delicately tuned machines, but a Toro Rosso. He is, by his own admission, an "extreme professional"who derives pride from his ability, as in India, to crush the competition with the perfect weekend, where he tops the time sheets in all three practice sessions, takes pole, and throws in the fastest lap for good measure. As a driver Vettel directs his cars, which he affectionately names anything from 'Luscious Liz' to 'Kinky Kylie' - in honour, he assures, of their aesthetic beauty - as precisely as a surgeon's scalpel.
It follows that his anonymity off the track is just as carefully cultivated. He has made his home with long-time girlfriend Hanna Prater in the tiny Swiss village of Walchwil, and you are as likely to see him on Twitter as necking a foaming stein of lager.
Where Lewis Hamilton burnishes his global image through a management company, Vettel uses only ever-present confidante Britta Roeske to conduct his public relations. Such understatement, in his latest hour of glory, defines his character. But it masks a good deal of devilment and an even greater dose of consummate brilliance.