It’s becoming increasingly apparent that all Lewis Hamilton needs to do to claim this year’s Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship – his fifth career title – is simply kick back, put his feet up and enjoy the spoils of Sebastian Vettel continuing to hand over valuable championship points.
This season Vettel has performed in a very un-Vettel like fashion in his pursuit of the 2018 Championship; and surely the mood at Maranello must be one of pure frustration at so many lost opportunities.
But it shouldn’t be this way. For the first time in recent years Ferrari’s SF71H challenger is a car that can truly be described as competitive across all circuits; one that has the potential to take the fight to Mercedes for both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships. Add to that the experience and strategic cunning of four-time world champion Vettel and you’d be forgiven for thinking this year’s championship was going to be one of the great battles of all time.
However this hasn’t been the case. The German has thrown away the championship lead – and with it any hope of winning this season’s title – with a series of mistakes you’d expect to see from a rookie driver, not a champion of his calibre.
If we cast our minds back to Baku, Vettel was in a strong winning position until a collision between Red Bull Racing teammates brought out the Safety Car. On the re-start Vettel out-braked himself and lost places, a mistake he rarely makes. He finished in fourth place, while Hamilton won.
During the French Grand Prix he mistimed his braking into Turn 1 on the first lap and collected Valtteri Bottas, damaging his car’s nose and incurring a five-second penalty to add to his troubles. Vettel recovered to finish in fifth place, while Hamilton won.
But the pain didn’t stop there, and after qualifying third-fastest at the Austrian Grand Prix Vettel was demoted to sixth after being found guilty of impeding Claris Sainz during qualifying. In a lucky break for Vettel, Hamilton failed to finish that race, but the Ferrari driver could only manage third place.
Then in Germany, at his home Grand Prix, the 31-year-old locked the front wheels and slid off the track into the barriers while leading the race. This handed an unlikely victory to Hamilton who drove superbly through the field after a disastrous qualifying session.
While at Monza, Vettel attempted a bold overtaking move on Hamilton on the opening lap and was spun around by the Mercedes. Relegated to the back of the field, Vettel fought back to finish fourth, but again the Briton took home the maximum points.
Now I am not taking anything away from Lewis Hamilton. In my opinion, he is one of the best drivers the sport has seen with his superior driving prowess, his ability to best navigate driving conditions (especially in the rain), his tyre management, and his and Mercedes’ seamless execution of race strategy.
But the truth here is Hamilton has Vettel spooked, plain and simple. He has managed to get into the Ferrari driver’s head, something that was unimaginable back in the German’s dominating Red Bull days. Sadly, it appears Vettel has lost his edge.
But in the interest of fairness Ferrari’s woes are not all Vettel’s fault, teammate Kimi Räikkönen has a part to play as well. Time and time again the Finn has looked strong during practice sessions and qualifying, giving fans hope they will see the two scarlet Ferraris battle it out for race wins and challenge the Mercedes. But come race day Vettel’s teammate is nowhere to be found, again giving the Silver Arrows easy championship points. At the very least Räikkönen should be playing the team role of getting in the way of the Mercedes which would go a long way in assisting the Scuderia in securing both championships.
There is no question that Ferrari have the pace this year, yet this hasn’t always translated to race victories which for the Tifosi is the disheartening aspect of the 2018 season.
After another poor outing this past weekend in Singapore, Hamilton’s victory saw him extend is championship lead to 40 points, with six races left on the calendar. At the end of the season Hamilton should send his adversary a bottle of wine and a thank-you card for helping make him a five-time World Champion.
Images via LAT and Scuderia Ferrari
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