VET­TEL LOOKS TO SLASH HAMIL­TON’S LEAD

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Mercedes nor­mally strug­gle at the steamy Ma­rina Bay Cir­cuit, but in 2017, Hamil­ton won from fifth place 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 ten days ago, despite the Marinello team lock­ing out the front row at its 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 in Monza.

"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 would 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 was 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 vtime to get them down."

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

The Aus­trian team has not won in hot, hu­mid Sin­ga­pore since 2013, when Vet­tel was be­hind the wheel, but Ric­cia­rdo has re­mark­ably 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 team­mate'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 would be re­placed by Monaco's Charles Le­clerc, 20, next year.

More than 20,000 fans had signed an on­line pe­ti­tion urg­ing Fer­rari to stick with the vet­eran Finn, who will now join Sauber, for one more sea­son at least. Cham­pi­onship driv­ers' stand­ings: 1 Hamil­ton (256 points), 2 Vet­tel (226), 3 Raikko­nen (164), 4 Bot­tas (159), 5 Ver­stap­pen (130), 6 Daniel Ric­cia­rdo (118), 7 Nico Hulken­berg (52), 8 Kevin Mag­nussen (49), 9 Perez (44), 10 Fer­nando Alonso (44).

A file photo of Lewis Hamil­ton (in­set) com­pet­ing in his Mercedes dur­ing a For­mula One race ear­lier this sea­son

A file photo of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel (in­set) driv­ing his Fer­rari dur­ing the For­mula One Ital­ian Grand Prix in Monza re­cently

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