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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

History shows Sebastian Vettel can turn disappointment into success with Ferrari in 2018

German driver trails F1 championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 59 points ahead of this weekend's United States Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire from the Japanaese Grand Prix and now trails Lewis Hamilton by 59 points in the Formula One world drivers' standings. Diego Azubel / EPA
Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire from the Japanaese Grand Prix and now trails Lewis Hamilton by 59 points in the Formula One world drivers' standings. Diego Azubel / EPA

As Sebastian Vettel prepares for this weekend's United States Grand Prix wondering how he will overcome a 59-point deficit to championship leader Lewis Hamilton, the Ferrari man would do well to look to history for inspiration.

Back in 1991, the Williams of Nigel Mansell was the dominant force for much of the campaign. But a combination of mechanical unreliability, driver mistakes and bad luck conspired to see the Englishman lose out on the Formula One world title to McLaren’s Ayrton Senna.

Williams were dealt a harsh lesson in the importance of maintaining standards throughout a season. They learnt from their mistakes, too. They already had a good car and improved it over the winter break. Crucially, though, they also cut out errors. The English team dominated the 1992 season as Mansell won his lone world title with five races to spare.

No-one, and certainly not this writer, is saying Vettel will win the 2018 title with five races remaining. But, following a demoralising past month where it has seemed as if Ferrari have found a new way each weekend to score an own goal, they need to find the positives and build on them.

Ferrari possess a very fast car. It has been arguably the most consistent car over the course of the season, even more so then the Mercedes-GP of Hamilton. But Ferrari’s and Vettel’s problem has been that they have not been able to showcase that enough.

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When Vettel has had a clean weekend he has nearly always been in the top two. Indeed his first six races of the season reads: first, second, first, second, second, first. That is championship-winning form, and when he left Monte Carlo in May after winning the Monaco Grand Prix he led Hamilton by 25 points.

Fast forward five months though and there has been an 84-point swing in Hamilton’s favour.

Hamilton has raised his game and has hardly put a wheel wrong all season. But since Monaco a mixture of bad luck with punctures and car failures, as well as his own mistakes and clashes with other cars has cost Vettel dear.

But that is precisely what should feel the four-time world champion with hope: errors can be eliminated with more discipline from both driver and team. It is much harder to make a slow car go faster.

There are other green shoots of optimism too. The four grands prix wins Ferrari have had this year is more then they managed in the previous three seasons combined. Their three pole positions in 2017 is their most in a single season since 2008.

It is a big step forward and they have given Mercedes a real fight this year, something they had not come up against the previous three years.

Will this go down as a missed opportunity for Ferrari? Yes. But it could prove an invaluable stepping stone for an even better season in 2018 with the team more savvy and battle-hardened from their experiences.

All Vettel and Ferrari can do, starting with the race in Austin, Texas on Sunday, is look to finish the season strong, putting pressure on Hamilton in the hope that the Briton makes some errors too, though it is hard to see any other scenario than Hamilton being crowned a four-time world champion when the chequered flag drops at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.

But a good end to the season for Vettel can build momentum for 2018. After all, history has shown us that sometimes disappointment can be followed by success.