The Singapore Grand Prix was nothing short of disastrous for Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of claiming the 2017 World Championship. Lights Out asks – is the Ferrari driver’s championship already over with six races remaining?
Vettel’s bold defensive move on Max Verstappen off the start line during Sunday’s Grand Prix may be looked back on as the move that cost him the championship this year. The move would have been aggressive but fair and not spoken about again had Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen not been on the inside of the Red Bull driver. The trio left each other with nowhere to go and the resulting impact – deemed to be a racing incident by the stewards – ended each of their races. Ferrari’s handling of the situation has been slated by fans and even the Italian media has turned on the team.
The race was the first time since the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix that both Ferraris have retired. With Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen taken out on Lap One, Lewis Hamilton was left with a clear path to his seventh victory of the season and a 28 point lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
Four-time champion Vettel is left with a mountain to climb if he wishes to secure his fifth title this year. Singapore was deemed by many to be Ferrari’s most obvious shot at victory from the remaining races in 2017. Given his pace on Saturday, and Red Bull’s lack thereof on Sunday, Vettel could have and arguably should have cruised to victory under the floodlights at the Marina Bay Circuit. He now has six races to cut down Hamilton’s points lead. It is difficult to see where Vettel will be able to comprehensively do so.
6 Races To Go
Up next are back-to-back weekends in Malaysia and Japan. Hamilton was dominant at the Sepang International Circuit last year until an engine failure saw him retire and lose 25 valuable points in his battle against eventual champion Nico Rosberg. A Mercedes dominated weekend seems to be quite likely here, and a fourth straight victory for Hamilton could leave Vettel’s championship bid in tatters.
Nevertheless, it could be all change seven days later at Suzuka. Hamilton doesn’t expect the Japanese circuit to be the Mercedes team’s strongest because of the high downforce levels required to master the track, so Vettel could have a real chance to take the fight back.
The USA Grand Prix follows as the seventeenth round of the championship. Unfortunately for Sebastian, it’s a track at which Hamilton is notoriously good. From the five races held here, Hamilton has taken victory in all but one of them. The one which he didn’t win was won by Vettel in 2013 when Red Bull were winning every race in truly dominant fashion. Any chance of a Ferrari victory at the Circuit of the Americas is slim.
After Texas, Formula One heads to Mexico. With its long straight, you’d expect Mercedes with their supreme engine to be confident about their chances here. However, thanks to the high altitude of the track, Hamilton is not so certain:
“It’s hard to predict. When you go to Mexico, you put your maximum downforce on but because it’s so high there’s little drag and maybe the cars that have a little bit more downforce might just have the edge on us.”
There could be a shot at victory for Vettel there, but it may already be too late by then with only two rounds remaining.
The penultimate Grand Prix of the year takes place in Brazil at the legendary Interlagos circuit. Hamilton expects Ferrari to be ‘particularly strong’ here, and given Max Verstappen’s fabulous form in the wet last year, you can’t rule out a wet race and Red Bull mixing up the order. If Vettel is still in the hunt by the time we reach the Brazilian round of the season and if it’s wet in Interlagos, which it so often has been over the years, then the championship could be taken down to the wire.
Abu Dhabi seems more difficult to predict, with characteristics which suit both Mercedes and Ferrari’s 2017 machinery. A level playing field for the title showdown would be the ultimate pressure test for Hamilton seeking his fourth title and Vettel seeking his fifth.
In Vettel’s favour…
Vettel can take solace in stats from previous seasons. In 2010, he was a real championship outsider to Fernando Alonso and found himself 31 points behind the championship leader with six races remaining. Similarly in 2012, he was 29 points behind Alonso with six rounds to go. In both of these instances, the Red Bull was the best car on the grid – which isn’t a clear cut luxury Sebastian has in 2017. If there is a man who can turn adversity to his advantage, it is Sebastian Vettel. Look at the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix as the perfect example of this.
Also working in Vettel’s favour is that Hamilton has not yet retired from a Grand Prix in 2017. In every season he has spent so far in the sport, Hamilton has not completed a year without at least one retirement. If Hamilton were to retire at the next Grand Prix and Vettel scoop the spoils, the gap would be back down to a very manageable three points.
Another factor to consider in the race to becoming the 2017 World Champion is the influence of any gearbox or engine related grid penalties over the remaining six races. A drop of ten places to either Hamilton or Vettel at this stage in the championship would certainly be costly.
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Vettel needs to cling on over the next four Grands Prix to continue to hold realistic title hopes. A win in Suzuka would be optimal, but Malaysia, America and Mexico may be more tricky to have the edge over Hamilton. Vettel needs to finish at least runner up to his title rival in these three events and hope that Hamilton suffers mechanical problems which put him out of contention for big points one weekend. Brazil and Abu Dhabi have the potential to turn it around for the Ferrari driver – but only if he is still in the hunt by then.
As always in Formula One, it’s not over until it’s over.
What do you think? Does Lewis Hamilton have the 2017 Drivers’ World Championship in the bag? Or is Sebastian Vettel’s championship charge far from over yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!