Vettel on the precipice following Singapore sling

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

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    Sebastian Vettel's title chances are cooked. (GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

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    The championship race could be run by next month’s Japanese Grand Prix, following Ferrari’s cataclysmic Singapore outing as its interest lasted no more than five corners, while Lewis Hamilton claimed an unlikely victory to extend his lead to 28 points.

    If the constructors’ was in the balance, that’s now settled in Mercedes’ favour, not that it has affected the trajectory of this season. Hamilton’s suddenly considerable advantage has manifested despite teammate Valtteri Bottas’ competitiveness in contrast to his countryman, Kimi Räikkönen.

    Of most concern is that Hamilton hadn’t even led the standings until his triumph at Italy earlier this month, yet each weekend since the mid-season break has reinforced the notion that Ferrari is firmly on the back foot, and Sunday was nothing if not an own goal.

    The outlook following qualifying suggested that Vettel could count not only on banking a victory, but with Hamilton having to content himself with fourth or fifth place at a circuit unsuited to the W08’s characteristics. To emerge empty handed while the Briton avoided the opening lap carnage to claim the maximum haul is a devastating blow to his recently formidable title credentials.

    Its stubbornness in apportioning blame at the feet of Max Verstappen – a soft target enduring a forgettable campaign, reeks of an operation in damage control, and in true Ferrari fashion, on the offensive.

    Tweeting that the Dutchman “took Kimi out and then he went into Seb”, and subsequently refusing to alter its stance on reflection, “what we tweeted was a factual description of events”, evinces a sad realisation that the familiar brazen, immovable Ferrari lurks beneath the surface.

    The Maranello outfit has alarmingly claimed just one of the past eight events, unable to overcome Mercedes – whether Bottas or Hamilton, on marginal weekends such as Austria and Belgium, while making hard work of its ultimate one-two at Hungary.

    The deficit at circuits which has favoured the German manufacturer has also increased, culminating in the Silver Arrows’ clinical display in the Prancing Horse’s backyard at Monza.

    Vettel’s hot headedness when he rammed Hamilton behind the safety car arguably cost him victory at Azerbaijan, and his clumsiness off the line, in the wet on Sunday ensured there was no coming back. During a campaign in which either protagonist hadn’t failed to finish until Singapore, these two moments could define the outcome.

    Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel looks on during the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix.

    Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

    Nevertheless, the German remains bullish about his prospects, remarking that the incident “doesn’t change much, I’m sure there will be more opportunities”, though privately, he must be keenly aware that the result was a huge free kick for Hamilton.

    Coming venues tend towards Mercedes, and accounting for Ferrari’s impending penalties for component changes already weathered by the former, there might not be the abundance of ‘opportunities’ the German speaks of.

    It’s true that Vettel historically enjoys the final portions of a campaign, most prolifically claiming the final nine events in 2013. His exploits in 2010 and 2012 from positions of adversity to claim the title on each occasion were meritorious, yet with respect to his opponents of the day, they didn’t enjoy the peerless machinery wielded by Mercedes, so he shouldn’t count on the Brackley squad misfiring.

    A scorned Verstappen suggested “if you are fighting for the world championship you shouldn’t take those risks.” If Vettel hasn’t learned from this experience, it would appear that his ambitions for a fifth title will have to wait a little longer while Hamilton shamelessly capitalises.

    Six races, plenty, sure, yet from a momentum perspective, it’s difficult to envisage Vettel delivering Ferrari’s first drivers’ crown in a decade short of prevailing decisively at Malaysia or Japan.