Sebastian Vettel adjusting to lower expectations at Singapore GP
Sept. 20, 2019
For the last two meetings of the Singapore Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel had strong hopes of victory. On both occasions he was still in the championship fight with Lewis Hamilton. Both times Hamilton took the win. This year the odds weigh even heavier against the German but given his poor performances of late an error-free run may be the fillip he requires. Vettel says he still loves the sport, but sorely needs to find his touch if Sunday afternoons are not to become more chore than passion.
Four times a winner under the floodlights of the Marina Bay circuit – a stern physical and mental test of 23 corners in heat and high humidity, beneath walls that punish any mistakes – Vettel relishes this challenge. The task has not changed but this year carries even more pressure and Vettel conceded in Singapore this is not a track that is forgiving of a driver perhaps pushing too hard.
Hamilton is already within touching distance of the title, 63 points clear of his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas. He won here two years ago after Vettel went out in a crash at turn one as Max Verstappen looked to charge past him. Last year Hamilton put in a sublime qualifying lap to take pole and from it dominate the race . Then Ferrari had the better car at this track, this time their weakness through slow corners puts them on the back foot.
It is a disadvantage that is hitting Vettel harder than his teammate Charles Leclerc, who has won the last two races. At the last round at Monza, Vettel made an unforced error in spinning at the Ascari chicane, an ignominious mistake and not the first. Notably this season he also span in Bahrain, crashed in practice at Monaco, went off track in Canada costing him a win and made a serious misjudgment in hitting Verstappen at Silverstone.
It appears he is uncomfortable with the balance of the Ferrari and as yet the team have not found a way to adjust it to his liking. This, as suggested by former driver Juan Pablo Montoya this week, is a technical issue for Vettel who is having to push himself harder and adapt his style. Pointedly he noted in Singapore his fundamental lack of confidence in the feel of the Ferrari beneath him.
“I don’t think it is mental, I am doing the right things,” he said. “It is crucial not to overcomplicate things too much and pull through it. Yes here and there I might not have the absolute trust in the car and the best feeling but it is improving.”
Marina Bay is a circuit where trust in the car is vital, and where Vettel believes and Hamilton proved last year, a driver can make the difference. Ferrari have brought a new nose to Singapore looking for more grip through the plethora of 90-degree corners here, where all the teams are using their maximum downforce packages.
Under scrutiny and under pressure, Vettel remained hopeful of making progress but knows he needs a clean sheet on Sunday. “It is a question of details, lining them up,” he said. “I am convinced that sooner or later it will click and things will fall into place. There are always things you can do better, I can learn.”
Hamilton however was looking ominously strong again on track. Unsurprisingly Red Bull, very strong on high aero circuits, performed well at Marina Bay, with Verstappen quickest in first practice. However in the more representative second session run at night, Hamilton topped the time sheets, just under two-tenths clear of the Dutchman, with Vettel in third. Almost certainly a one-stop race with overtaking difficult, pole will be vital in Singapore and Hamilton looks to have the pace on his rivals to take it.