Is Vet­tel’s ti­tle chal­lenge over?

Sportstar - - SPOTLIGHT VINESH PHOGAT -

Fer­rari needs the prayers of ev­ery mem­ber of the global tifosi fan club, plus per­haps some di­vine in­ter­ven­tion to win this ti­tle now.

The Ja­panese Grand Prix seemed like the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin for the Se­bas­tian Vet­tel­fer­rari ti­tle chal­lenge for 201■. This was a week­end where they needed Mercedes and Lewis Hamil­ton to make mis­takes or suf­fer from re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues. But once again it was the red squad that cracked. With a 67­point lead and only four races to go, the ques­tion is when rather than if Lewis will clinch his fifth World Cham­pi­onship.

I’ve been hugely im­pressed with how Mercedes has dealt with this sea­son from Sil­ver­stone on­wards. After its home race, the Brack­ley­based squad was on the back foot. Vet­tel had beaten them a few miles from home and, more omi­nously, the Fer­rari looked like the quicker car. Mercedes had also made big strate­gic mis­takes in Aus­tralia and Aus­tria as well as smaller ones in Bahrain, China and Rus­sia, and at all those races I be­lieve that I was right to crit­i­cise them.

But the team has ral­lied and as the sea­son has gone on, they’ve dug deep, made sure they are op­er­a­tionally more slick than their Ital­ian ri­vals. And, as the pres­sure ramped up on Vet­tel and Fer­rari to de­liver a re­sult for the tifosi, the sil­ver camp just kept their heads down, stuck to their core en­gi­neer­ing val­ues and just brought a fast car with sen­si­ble tyre choices and racked up the points.

There’s no doubt in my mind that some­thing has changed on the Fer­rari car since Monza. On av­er­age, the two teams were ab­so­lutely joined at the hip. Only 0.006 per cent sep­a­rated the two teams across the sea­son on Satur­day night in Monza. If we look at just the past three races, that gap has be­come 1.0■4 per cent to Mercedes’ ad­vant­

GETTY IM­AGES

Widen­ing gap: After an­other dis­ap­point­ing race at Suzuka, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel trails ti­tle ri­val Lewis Hamil­ton by 67 points.

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