Where the wheels fell off Ferrari’s title bid

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By , Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    The statistics belie the reality that Ferrari has let this year’s championship slip, the culmination of another malaise at the Japanese Grand Prix leaving fate to determine an unlikely reprieve.

    For a third successive weekend an unforced error denied Sebastian Vettel the opportunity to continue the erstwhile compelling narrative his title fight with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton had produced, and the latest setback appears terminal.

    Unlike Singapore and Malaysia, where Ferrari boasted a superior package to its rivals only to surrender its advantage through driver error at the former and reliability at the latter, Suzuka played to Mercedes’ strengths, with Hamilton enjoying one of his near untouchable weekends.

    Thus Vettel’s early retirement on account of a faulty spark plug was arguably the most galling of the trio, as banking an uneventful second place would have at least delivered some clarity to his faltering campaign instead of the reality of conceding his second 25-point haul to the Briton from the past three events.

    In the wake of the Maranello outfit’s latest devolution, the German told Sky Sports of his “need to protect” the team from the unforgiving Italian media and president Sergio Marchionne’s unnerving baritone, citing that the team has “done an incredible job so far” in an attempt to galvanise its shattered psyche.

    “We need to get back, get some rest and then go flat out for the last four races and see what happens,” he remarked, a concession that the final outcome is now out of his hands.

    (Image: GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

    “Obviously it’s not as much in our control as we’d like,” is being generous to a situation which now requires a spectacular implosion from Hamilton if he is to be denied his third title in four seasons.

    Having led the standings undisturbed since his victory at Australia until last month’s Italian Grand Prix, a 59-point deficit with four events remaining appears to be a rapid descent for the 30-year-old, though momentum has been slipping from Ferrari’s corner for much longer.

    It’s only now with reliability displaying its hand with devastating effect that earlier missteps are being felt, and Ferrari hasn’t been without its moments to capitalise on Mercedes’ weaknesses, only to blunder as the Prancing Horse has done in abundance in the post-Schumacher era.

    Three victories from the opening six events have been followed by just one in the subsequent ten – at the twisting Hungary, ill-suited to the W08. Even there Ferrari did its best to hand victory to Mercedes by holding Kimi Räikkönen behind a struggling Vettel.

    While he was unlucky not to pip Valtteri Bottas in Russia and Austria, subsidised by Hamilton’s struggles both weekends, the four-time champion’s brain fade at Azerbaijan is even more costly in retrospect.

    It was less a case of an unrealised victory for Vettel in objectivity than the altered dynamics the incident had on the season, which was a race-by-race proposition until that stage. Hamilton has appeared much more invested, lifting his own game and holding Ferrari to greater account since Baku, in turn affording a smaller margin for error.

    This has represented driver and team’s collective undoing while restoring Ferrari’s ambivalent, reactive instinct in clutch moments, cumulatively resulting in desperation, manifesting the failure of updates which had no room to do so following its nightmare at Marina Bay.

    Mercedes has ably weathered its lean patches with minimal fuss while maintaining a low profile, and now it appears that its patient, long game approach has definitively broken Ferrari’s resolve.