The German had Mercedes-GP pair beat until he hit the barriers in the rain, highlighting the impressive performance levels of the Italian team at present
Positives in Germany for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari despite costly crash
On Saturday you did not have to be a body language expert to figure that Lewis Hamilton thought his Formula One drivers’ championship hopes were in real jeopardy.
Crouching for almost a minute, with his head bowed, he knelt by his stricken Mercedes-GP after it had stopped with a mechanical problem in qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
Yet, fast forward to Sunday and it was the turn of his title rival Sebastian Vettel to suffer his own emotional despair, which like Hamilton’s was all on show for the public to see.
Vettel was on track for his first win at Hockenheim when in damp conditions he slid wide in his Ferrari on Lap 52 at Turn 13 and rolled through the gravel trap and hit at low speed a barrier.
The four-time world champion sat almost stunned in the car for a second, struggling to come to terms with what he had done.
Then he began to beat his hands forlornly against the steering wheel as the frustration set in.
Eventually the 31 year old got out of his car and walked away, escorted by marshals, kicking away some gravel from underneath his foot as he did.
It was an astonishing turn of fortunes for Vettel, and the immediate consequences of them were what likely led to him using his steering wheel as a physical punchbag to unleash his emotions.
At the start of the lap the German had been on track to extend his eight-point lead in the championship by another 13 with Hamilton down in fourth place.
One altercation with a barrier later, which set in motion the train of events that led to Hamilton winning in Hockenheim, having started 14th, and what had been set for a 21-point advantage instead to being a 17-point deficit.
A 38-point swing in the course of one corner.
If Vettel and Ferrari do walk away from the final round of the season, the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, without the title, Lap 52 of the German Grand Prix will be high up on the list of moments where it went wrong.
But, just as Hamilton claimed that he had stayed positive despite his qualifying setback, there is a lot for Vettel to be encouraged about going on to the remaining 10 races of the season.
Yes, he did not win and gifted 25 points to his chief rival, albeit in tricky conditions as he drove on a track that a mixture of wet and dry, following a rain shower, on slick tyres.
But, Vettel and Ferrari were the dominant force throughout the weekend and their performance has to give them strong hope that Hamilton’s lead can be comfortably overturned.
Vettel, himself, put a brave face on with the media post-race and was confident he could quickly move forward from his setback.
“I don’t think it was a huge mistake, it was a huge impact on the race because we retired,” he told reporters.
“But it’s not like tonight I will have difficulties to fall asleep because of what I’ve done wrong.
“It’s disappointing because up to that point everything was sweet. We didn’t need the rain.”
Vettel’s problem this season is that unexpected events are often getting in the way of his prospects of victory.
Five times this season Vettel has started from pole, and he has converted only two of them into standing on the top step of the podium at the end of the afternoon.
In Bahrain and Canada the races were uneventful in terms of incident and Vettel drove confidently from the front and controlled things to win.
Safety car periods in China and Azerbaijan threw things open when he had looked to be in a strong position and he ended up finishing in eighth and fourth.
Then there was Sunday. Vettel had controlled the first half of the race, leading Valtteri Bottas by five seconds as he built up a cushion at the front.
He had been unhappy to find himself behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen after his first pit stop.
The Finn had gained track position by stopping early, and while he was not due to be a long-term threat due to being on a two-stop strategy, Vettel complained about being stuck behind him until Ferrari got the 2007 world champion to move out of the way.
But, then the rain came and it changed everything.
Vettel can not undo his error, but he can take confidence from the fact he had the race won until that stage.
Ferrari were quicker then Mercedes at a track that the German marque have traditionally dominated at.
If they can repeat that going forward Vettel’s title bid is still in very good health.