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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Explainer: Why Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel believes he has been his own 'biggest enemy' in F1 title fight

A look at the German's season and the errors that left trailing Lewis Hamilton in the standings rather than leading him

Sebastian Vettel has blamed himself for some of his problems in this season's Formula One title race. EPA
Sebastian Vettel has blamed himself for some of his problems in this season's Formula One title race. EPA

Sebastian Vettel gave an honest appraisal of why he is 30 points behind in the Formula One drivers' championship to Lewis Hamilton on Thursday ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday

The four-time world champion told reporters "the biggest enemy is me" when asked what was hurting his hopes of a first title since 2013 and a first with Ferrari.

So why is Vettel being so down on himself. Let's have a look.

The situation

As mentioned above, Vettel is 30 points behind defending champion Hamilton with seven races remaining. There are still a maximum 175 points to be won so the German's destiny is still in his own hands.

But, given the Ferrari since mid-season has proven consistently to be the quickest package, at least in terms of raw pace, he really should not be trailing his British rival.

Vettel, can, and may well still, win this year's championship but he has contributed to making life harder for himself.

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The mistakes

This is probably what Vettel is alluding to in terms of being his "biggest enemy". Here is a quick run through of where he has made errors in races that have been costly.

Azerbaijan On the race restart after a safety car period he attempted to pass Valtteri Bottas, but out-braked himself at Turn 1 and fell from second to fourth, the place he would eventually finish.

France Vettel misjudges his braking at the start and hits Bottas, breaking his front wing in the process. He eventually finishes fifth when a podium finish had been likely.

Germany Having led most of the race at Hockenheim, Vettel pushed too hard in damp conditions and crashed out into the barriers, losing 25 points as a result.

Italy Having missed out on pole position to teammate Kimi Raikkonen, he got himself boxed in behind the Finn at the start and was caught out by a passing move around the outside by Hamilton. The pair touched and Vettel spun. While the contact itself was unfortunate, Vettel should never have been in a position where Hamilton could try to pass him. He finished fourth at a race Ferrari had expected to win.

The points dropped

It is hard to completely weigh up just how many points Vettel has lost through his own mistakes. Germany counts as 25, and if you presume he would have been third in France if he did not hit Bottas that is five points lost.

Italy is hard to predict as we never saw a straight fight between Hamilton and Vettel. But given Raikkonen, who is usually 15-20 seconds slower then Vettel over a race distance, almost won, lets say for the sake of argument that Vettel wins from Hamilton, so that is 12 points he missed out.

Azerbaijan is again very subjective, given Bottas actually went out a lap later with a puncture after Vettel's failed passing attempt. But lets stick to Vettel losing out on where he was at the time of the attempted move, second place, so by finishing fourth he lost six points.

Add those four races together and that is 48 points he has missed out on. A lot and if he had them he would be leading Hamilton, not trailing him.

Cause for optimism

Vettel acknowledged that Ferrari have the outright speed to still both championships.

When he has had a clean race, and by clean not making mistakes, having safety car periods or wet weather to contend with, he has usually come out on top.

He controlled the events in Bahrain, Canada and Belgium in impressive fashion. The only mystery, given how quick the SF71H chassis has proven, is why it has not happened more often.

Another reason for Vettel to be upbeat is only driver in F1 history, Fernando Alonso in 2012, not gone on be world champion after building a lead of more than 30 points in the standings.

The man who caught him that year was Vettel, who was driving for Red Bull Racing at the time.

He won four races in a row, beginning with Singapore, that led him to beat Alonso and claim the third of his four titles.

If Vettel can start another run, beginning in Singapore this year, he can make quick in-roads into Hamilton's lead.

A race win is guaranteed to at minimum cut that gap by seven points, and given Mercedes-GP fear they will be the third fastest car in Singapore, there is every chance Vettel can take more than 10 points out of his rival's lead.

Remaining races

The season continues in Singapore on Sunday, with the race starting at 4.10pm UAE time.

After that is Russia (September 30), Japan (October 7), United States (October 21), Mexico (October 28) and Brazil (November 11) before the season culminates at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25 at Yas Marina Circuit.

If Vettel can cut out the mistakes it can still be him leaving the UAE in November with a fifth championship to his name, rather than Hamilton.