Pres­sure on Vet­tel grows

Fer­rari des­per­ate to slash Mercedes’s cham­pi­onship lead

The Witness - - CLASSIFIEDS / SPORT -

SE­BAS­TIAN Vet­tel is un­der grow­ing pres­sure to slash Lewis Hamil­ton’s cham­pi­onship lead at this week­end’s Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix, and in the process erase Fer­rari’s painful mem­o­ries from last year.

Mercedes nor­mally strug­gle at the steamy Ma­rina Bay Cir­cuit, but in 2017 Hamil­ton won from fifth on a rain-soaked grid af­ter a first-lap shunt scup­pered both Fer­raris and the Red Bull of Max Ver­stap­pen.

Fer­rari and Vet­tel are still smart­ing af­ter Hamil­ton won at Italy’s Monza 10 days ago, de­spite the Marinello team lock­ing out the front row at their home Grand Prix.

Vet­tel’s first-lap spin af­ter con­tact with Hamil­ton en­abled the English­man to ex­tend his lead in the driv­ers’ stand­ings to 30 points and the Ger­man vowed to bounce straight back in Sin­ga­pore, where he has won a record four times.

“For sure it’s a dis­ap­point­ment right now,” Vet­tel said af­ter the race. “But I am turn­ing the page and fo­cus­ing on Sin­ga­pore. I like the place and I am happy to go there.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff warned this week that Fer­rari and Red Bull will have the edge on Mercedes on the tight, twist­ing street cir­cuit. But with rain fore­cast again this week, any­thing could hap­pen.

“Sin­ga­pore has fea­tures that we’ve strug­gled with in the past,” said Wolff.

“The short straights, the slow, tight cor­ners and the bumpy sur­face all make the Ma­rina Bay Street Cir­cuit one of the trick­i­est for us.

“On pa­per, the track should favour the Fer­raris, but the cham­pi­onship fight is so close that pre­dic­tions are al­most mean­ing­less.”

Vet­tel said he is not wor­ried about the gap to Hamil­ton grow­ing to 30 points with seven races re­main­ing, and is rel­ish­ing the chance to pounce on one of his favourite tracks. “I think we have the pace,” the four-time world cham­pion said. “The points sound a lot, but ac­tu­ally it doesn’t take a long time to get them down.”

Red Bull have suf­fered a lean sea­son but will fancy their chances of pick­ing up a sec­ond 2018 win to fol­low Daniel Ric­cia­rdo’s tri­umph at Monaco’s sim­i­larly twisty street cir­cuit.

The Aus­trian team have not won in hot, hu­mid Sin­ga­pore since 2013, when Vet­tel was be­hind the wheel, but Ric­cia­rdo has fin­ished sec­ond in each of the past three years. “It’s a place where I have good races and fin­ish pretty strong,” said Ric­cia­rdo. “I’ve had four podi­ums and three sec­ond places in a row there, so it’s about time I win the damn thing.”

Ver­stap­pen echoed his team-mate’s op­ti­mism. “I think the whole team is look­ing for­ward to Sin­ga­pore be­cause we know we have a real chance to have a good re­sult there,” said the Dutch­man, who turns 21 at the end of the month.

“The race has been a strong one for us in the past and I think we should be able to chal­lenge for a podium.”

Off the track, much at­ten­tion will fo­cus on Kimi Raikko­nen, af­ter Fer­rari an­nounced that the for­mer world cham­pion will be re­placed by Monaco’s Charles Le­clerc (20) next year. Over 20 000 fans signed an on­line pe­ti­tion urg­ing Fer­rari to stick with the vet­eran Finn, who will now join Sauber for one more sea­son, at least. — AFP

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

For­mula One’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel is still smart­ing af­ter Lewis Hamil­ton won at Italy’s Monza a fort­night ago.

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