The word from Maranello after last week’s Singapore Grand Prix was that Sebastian Vettel, behind closed doors, had conceded the world title, once again, to Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s defeat in Asia, rooted mainly in another tactical error by the Scuderia, has left the Mercedes driver with a comfortable edge, although Hamilton insists he won’t let complacency take hold at the Silver Arrows squad, all too aware of the sport’s imponderables and vagaries.
Vettel’s official narrative is to tell us that he will fight to the bitter end as he aims to win every single one of the remaining six rounds of the F1 world championship. Admittedly, that’s a very tall order and one that implies a total – and unlikely – breakdown in the Mercedes camp.
In reality it’s likely Vettel’s heart is hardly still in it, shrunk by the material impact of Ferrari’s mismanagement and his own mistakes.
A tell-tale sign of Vettel’s despondency was his admission last week that he missed the guidance and counsel of his old friend Michael Schumacher in these difficult times.
Vettel stressed that he wouldn’t ask his former mentor for advice on his driving but rather on how to better understand Ferrari’s internal affairs; how to rally the troops, shed the politics and instil once again a conquering spirit at Maranello, something Schumacher absolutely excelled at.
That pretty much tells us all we need to know about the four-time world champion’s current level of faith in his team.
However, while Vettel may well feel a bit lost at sea and let down by the Scuderia, one could make an easy case for Ferrari feeling equally foiled by Vettel.
In Singapore, Hamilton and Mercedes may have inflicted permanent damage on Vettel and Ferrari’s championship ambitions.
There may be no way back for the German, but both driver and team are in urgent need of rescuing each other.
Not for the purpose of sustaining a glimmer of hope for 2018, but to prepare for 2019. For the fast, fearless and focused Hamilton/Mercedes combo will still be with us next season.
For Vettel and Ferrari, their 2019 title challenge begins in Sochi.
Phillip van Osten
Editor of F1i.com