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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel needs Lady Luck to smile on him if he is to deny Lewis Hamilton the F1 title

Vettel not punished for crash at start of Singapore Grand Prix, won by Hamilton, that brough tan end to his race along with Raikkonen and Verstappen

Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari, centre, crashes into teammate Kimi Raikkonen at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP
Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari, centre, crashes into teammate Kimi Raikkonen at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP

You did not have to be a body language expert to know Sebastian Vettel realised he had messed up big time in Singapore.

The sheepish manner in which he approached and then spoke to reporters in the media pen after his spectacular first lap exit from Sunday’s race was telling.

“That’s how this business is, and we’ll move on,” he said when asked to reflect on the coming together with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen off the startline that took all three men out of the race.

The result, with title rival Lewis Hamilton taking the chequered flag to extend his lead in the drivers' championship to 28 points, could be terminal to Vettel's hopes of winning a fifth world title.

The fact that Vettel was not throwing blame around, as he has been prone to do in the recent past, can be taken as a tacit admission of sorts that he played a big part in his own downfall.

He moved over from pole to squeeze Verstappen, who had made a good start from second place on the grid.

Nothing wrong with that. It has been going on in F1 for years without drivers being penalised, and Hamilton himself moved across aggressively at the start in Italy two weeks ago to prevent Lance Stroll passing him.

What Vettel did not realise was that Raikkonen had made a sensational getaway and was actually alongside Verstappen. Three into one narrowing space doesn't go, leading to contact and instant debris.

The stewards were right not to award further punishment post-race. It was an accident and none of the three went out of their way to cause a crash.

Vettel failing to score a point at what had looked before the race as an outstanding chance for the German to re-take the championship lead from Hamilton. Vettel had started from pole with Hamilton fifth. If they had finished in that order he would have gone to the next race in Malaysia on October 1 with a 12-point lead.

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Instead he trails by 28, and with the majority of the remaining six tracks likely to suit Mercedes-GP and Hamilton more than Ferrari, it is looking like a tall order now for Vettel to be crowned champion at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.

Vettel and Ferrari can take heart from what has been a fine season. Four victories in 2017, more than in the previous three years combined, and Ferrari have made huge steps forward in performance. The fact they have fought and pushed Mercedes so hard is admirable, given how much they struggled last year, and Vettel has to be optimistic there is still more will come in 2018.

Mercedes have still been quicker on raw pace, so if Vettel and Ferrari were going to be champions they needed to have an almost perfect year and Lady Luck on their side.

Vettel had already lost six points in Britain to a late puncture, missed out on a win in China due to a badly-timed virtual safety car period, and now has scored no points in Singapore.

The omens do not look good for Vettel as he needs Hamilton to suffer misfortune in the remaining races if he is to cut that 28-point deficit.

Funny things can happen though. You only have to go back 12 months to when an engine failure while leading in Malaysia not only lost Hamilton victory but eventually the world title to teammate Nico Rosberg.

Vettel has a lot to be proud of in 2017. Singapore was not his finest hour, but all he can do now is keep the pressure on Hamilton and hope fortune smiles his way.