SINGAPORE (AP) — In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.
After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.
But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.
“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”
Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.
“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”
Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.
“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.
Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.
“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”
But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.
After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.
Points have been thrown away, too.
At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.
On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.
A few seconds later, he was out of the race.