A case of too little, too late, but Vettel and Raikkonen can still look to end the season on a high at Interlagos and Abu Dhabi
Brazilian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton deserves the plaudits but Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are back on the pace
With all the plaudits firmly fixed in Lewis Hamilton's direction after the Mercedes-GP driver secured a fifth Formula One drivers' championship at last week's Mexican Grand Prix, there was still some consolation for rivals Ferrari.
The Italian marque have shown over the past two races they have found their pace again. Kimi Raikkonen won the United States Grand Prix three weeks ago to end a run of four wins in a row for Hamilton. Then Sebastian Vettel finished second, with Raikkonen third, in Mexico, behind race winner Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing.
Vettel passed Hamilton on track in Mexico. But for a poor qualifying session that meant he started fourth and had to fight through the field he would have challenged Verstappen for the victory.
Granted, it's a case of too little, too late to do anything about stopping Hamilton now, whose fourth place in Mexico was enough to secure this year's championship, but encouraging enough to give Ferrari hope of mounting a serious challenge to Hamilton and Mercedes in 2019.
Ferrari can take a lot of confidence into this weekend’s penultimate round in Brazil as they look to continue their fight for the one remaining bit of silverware still on offer.
Realistically, they need a one-two finish to keep alive hopes of a first constructors’ championship title since 2008. They trail Mercedes by 55 points, with a maximum 86 still available. After Sunday’s race only the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25 remains on the schedule. Ferrari must out-score Mercedes by at least 13 points to keep that championship alive heading to the UAE.
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Vettel won in Brazil 12 months ago in similar circumstances to now. Back then he had seen Hamilton win his fourth championship in Mexico but rallied with a victory at the Interlagos track, holding off Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
A repeat performance would do wonders for Vettel's confidence. His last victory, at the Belgium Grand Prix in August, feels a long time ago.
Mexico felt like a significant return to form for the four-time world champion. There was no contact with other drivers; no bad strategy calls from the team. Put simply he had a clean race and was back on the podium for only the second time since Belgium.
Red Bull and Verstappen were a class apart in Mexico, but the layout of the Interlagos circuit for Sunday’s 71-lap race, with strong engine power required, means a follow-up win is unlikely, with Mercedes and Ferrari both better suited.
Raikkonen beat Hamilton fair and square in the United States and Vettel almost certainly would have done so too had he not spun on the opening lap.
Ferrari, as a package, were resoundingly faster then Mercedes in Mexico as the German marque suffered with tyre wear issues.
A good end to 2017 with the Brazil win and then a third place in Abu Dhabi helped set Vettel up for his strongest season yet with Ferrari this year.
The 2018 campaign may have ended disappointingly for Ferrari, but six victories (Vettel 5, Raikkonen 1) is still the most notched in one season since 2008.
It is progress and the important thing now for Vettel is to get back to winning ways. He welcomes a new teammate next year with Charles Leclerc replacing Raikkonen. Vettel, 31, has consistently beaten Raikkonen in their four years together and taking a step into the unknown with Leclerc will be one more thing for the German to have to think about over the winter.