With the gap between championship leader Lewis Hamilton and nearest challenger Sebastian Vettel now standing at 34 points, with just five races to go, the feeling is creeping in that it might just be too much of a challenge for the Ferrari driver to overcome.
Not that this is an unfamiliar position for the German ace. Two of his four world titles were won through hauling back large deficits – 2010 had him 31 points behind Hamilton only to beat Fernando Alonso by four points by season’s end, a feat repeated two years later by dragging himself back from 39 points behind over the last seven races, again beating the Spaniard.
Logic and history dictate that it could possibly happen again. Despite Ferrari’s failings in Singapore and Malaysia, the pendulum could swing back in favour of the Scuderia still. Yet the Formula One we know now is a different beast to the world Vettel was king of nearly three seasons ago, the main sticking point is the competitiveness of the grid itself.
Vettel’s comebacks in those seasons hinged on the fact that his rivals lost points thanks to the efforts of others. Take 2012 as the prime example; that year of racing saw no less than eight different race winners and 14 different drivers on the podium. Compare that to now, five years later, and the numbers for the season so far drop to five and eight respectively.
The rest of the stats don’t help the task at hand. Hamilton’s record shows that a Red Bull – the only real team to influence the Mercedes vs. Ferrari battle – has finished in front of him in only four races in 2017. Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen has managed it three times, despite a slight upturn in form and fortune than in previous years in Maranello colours. Valtteri Bottas staked his claim to be in the title hunt after winning in Austria but has fallen away in recent races and looks destined to be the wingman after failing to find the consistency to partner his speed.
Even looking forward to the tracks on the rest of the calendar and it looks bleak. Vettel’s reputation was built on delivering sledgehammer-like performances once the F1 circus reached the Far East, dominating in places such as Malaysia, Japan and India. But in 2017 there hasn’t been that feeling of taking a race by the scruff of the next and running away with it, not like in the Red Bull days. Couple the lack of these weekends to the fact that the Mercedes has been almost a car apart on power circuits, such as Canada and Italy, and there’s another reason for Ferrari fans to feel tense.
Without writing the 2017 championship battle off completely, it would be wise to state that Ferrari, and Vettel, maximised their package and opportunities in the first half of the season. Baku was the first stumbling block and the cracks have started to appear since then, with reliance on tight, twisty circuits masking the inferior pace of the Ferrari – and there’s not really any of them left on the calendar.
Ferrari’s main problem now is not to lose hope. Stranger things have happened in the sport of Formula One and obstacles have been overcome throughout its history. The question is; can Sebastian Vettel beat the odds one more time?