Sebastian Vettel must delay Lewis Hamilton's title coronation at the United States Grand Prix
Hamilton can secure a fifth world title with victory in Austin if his Ferrari rival fails to finish at least second
Sebastian Vettel has had plenty of low points over the past couple of months as his hopes of winning a fifth Formula One drivers’ title have faded away.
Spinning in Italy after contact with title rival Lewis Hamilton was one; picking the wrong tyre compound in Singapore was another. Careering backwards off track and falling to the back of the field after a brush with Max Verstappen in in Japan summed up the Ferrari driver's fortunes over the past four races.
Hamilton sits 67 points clear at the top of the drivers' standings and the Mercedes-GP driver can secure the championship with victory at Sunday's United States Grand Prix with victory and if Vettel finishes lower than third.
What will sting Vettel most though, at least in private, is the fact that Hamilton, supposedly his arch-rival, is feeling sorry for him and telling the media to lay off criticising the German.
“I feel the media need to show a little more respect for Sebastian,” Hamilton told reporters after victory in Japan secured a fourth win on the trot to edge him closer to a fifth world title.
“You simply can’t imagine how hard it is to do what we do at our level, for an athlete at the top of his game.”
Far from patronising Vettel, Hamilton's words seem genuine: the Briton has endured his own share of criticism in the past, some warranted. But for Hamilton to be more concerned with defending his rival from attacks off the track rather than on it, with four races still remaining, tells its own story.
Given Hamilton's dominance over the past four races aligned with the fact Vettel has failed to finish in the top two in that period all points to the Mercedes driver wrapping up the title in Austin this weekend.
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Vettel’s mission is to raise his and Ferrari’s morale by delaying Hamilton’s championship party for at least a week until the Mexico Grand Prix on October 28.
It is hard to believe we are in this situation. Vettel had been supreme in winning in Belgium in August to cut the gap to Hamilton to 17 points.
At that point it looked as if Ferrari had the faster package and he momentum was with Vettel. He has since lost 50 points to Hamilton over the past four races.
Hamilton and Mercedes deserve a lot of credit for raising their game after being trounced in Belgium and the wins in Italy and Singapore were two of the best of the Briton’s career.
Mercedes, other then the botched team orders fiasco in Russia, have been perfect while Vettel and his team have made errors.
Vettel needs to have a clean weekend to build his confidence again. Clean meaning no spins or crashes in practice or qualifying and then a simple race with no strategy missteps.
Generally this season when Vettel has done that he has looked strong. His win in Canada in June was one of the most impressive drives of the season and showed what he and Ferrari can do when firing on all cylinders.
Vettel and Ferrari will have cause for regret when the season concludes at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25. But rolling over now and giving Hamilton an easy run in Austin would be a real disservice to a campaign that promised so much.
Vettel was second to Hamilton in the United States 12 months ago and there is no reason why he cannot repeat that feat, or go one better, on Sunday.
Making Hamilton wait an extra seven days to be champion cannot undo the frustration of what has gone before. But it can start the process of rebuilding his pride and setting up momentum and belief that he and Ferrari can learn from their mistakes in 2019 and mount a championship bid.
Updated: October 18, 2018 11:30 AM