Ferrari has endured a nightmare September. After being trounced by Mercedes at Monza, the first-lap clash in Singapore between Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, marked the first time in Formula 1 history that both Ferrari’s have been eliminated from a Grand Prix on the opening lap.
In Malaysia, the Scuderia seemed to be out of the woods. Friday saw Vettel and Raikkonen top the timesheets, while also posting impressive times during long runs. It seemed certain that Vettel would seize pole position and reduce his points arrears with a win on Sunday. A turbo fault in FP3 before power unit gremlins in qualifying served to derail his weekend by condemning him to the back of the grid.
In the meantime, victories in Italy and Singapore – followed by a second place finish in Malaysia – have allowed Lewis Hamilton to steal a march towards the 2017 drivers’ championship title. He now leads Vettel by 34 points with a maximum 125 points still up for grabs.
September has been bleak for Ferrari. However, positives have emerged from the gloom and Vettel can still enter the final five races with an air of optimism regarding his title aspirations.
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The Singapore Grand Prix has a habit of injecting fresh jeopardy into a title battle. Be it Felipe Massa driving off with his fuel hose still attached during Formula 1’s first-ever night race in 2008 – or Nico Rosberg’s faulty wiring loom that led to terminal clutch issues in 2016 – Singapore has the potential to turn a championship fight on its head.
Should 2017 championship leader Lewis Hamilton be crowned a four-time world champion in November, Sebastian Vettel’s dramatic first-lap elimination in Singapore will be looked upon as a season-defining moment.
Now trailing Hamilton by 28-points with just six races remaining, Vettel unquestionably finds himself hugely compromised. However, this is a title battle that is still far from declaring a winner.
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After a thrilling first three races, the 2017 picture is beginning to form. A heavyweight title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – two of the greatest drivers of their generation – seems set to be this year’s pre-eminent storyline.
However, this Mercedes versus Ferrari duel has four key cast members. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen will both hope to wade in on the title fight, yet on the basis of the first three chapters, are likely to play number two roles in their respective teams.
Both, however, will be determined to avoid becoming supporting players. In this regard, Raikkonen seems to have more work to do than Bottas, after the latter claimed a maiden pole in Bahrain and has already claimed two podium finishes this year.
It could even be argued that for Raikkonen, aspirations of 2017 championship glory are already ebbing away and as a result, his season is about the supporting role he needs to play for teammate Vettel.