Motor racing: Championship gap can still be closed, says Vettel

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel fielding questions at the press conference ahead of today's Malaysian Grand Prix practice sessions. Both drivers, along with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, will be aiming to avoid a repeat of t
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen(left) and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel(right) fielding questions at the press conference ahead of today's Malaysian Grand Prix practice sessions. Both drivers, along with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, will be aiming to avoid a repeat of the carnage that took out their cars at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ferrari man hopes for reversal of fortunes at Sepang, long a happy hunting ground for him

SEPANG (Malaysia) • A defiant Sebastian Vettel vowed yesterday not to change the way he drives despite his first-lap exit in Singapore as he prepares for Sunday's last Malaysian Grand Prix.

His Ferrari had started from pole, but was involved in a crash at the start that also took out team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull's Max Verstappen on a rain-soaked Marina Bay Circuit earlier this month.

It allowed Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to win from fifth on the grid to extend his championship lead from three points to 28.

"I'm not fussed about the amount of points," Vettel told reporters at the Sepang International Circuit. "Obviously it's never good to be behind, we'd like to be in front, but we're not, so we've got to take it from there.

"Overall, it doesn't change anything for how we tackle the last six races."

He was exonerated from blame for the Singapore crash by stewards, but many observers felt the four-time world champion was at fault as he had forced Verstappen towards Raikkonen.

But Vettel said that he had not given the crash much thought since because it was just "part of racing".

STILL IN IT WITH A SHOUT

I'm not fussed about the amount of points... Overall, it doesn't change anything for how we tackle the last six races.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL, Ferrari driver, remains bullish that the 28-point F1 championship gap to Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton can still be bridged.

"I think it would have been more difficult if I had lost the car somewhere in the race," the German, a record four-time winner in Malaysia, said.

"The lights went off, we did our start. Everyone was trying to do his start and with the way it happened, it ended up really bad for all of us. There's not much you can do. I think it's part of racing.

COUP DE GRACE

There are lots of turning points within a year. I'm going to try and make sure that was the last one.

LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes driver, feels he can extinguish any lingering hopes Sebastian Vettel may have of winning this season's F1 championship at Sepang.

"It certainly didn't help that Lewis scored a lot of points, but that's the way it goes. What's done is done. It's not the first time I'm in the situation like this and probably will not be the last time."

Raikkonen also agreed that there was no point in dwelling on what happened and believes Ferrari could still take plenty of positives from Singapore.

"In Singapore, Sebastian was first and I was fourth in qualifying so if you compare it with Mercedes, we were better," he said. "Then we basically didn't race."

Hamilton qualified only fifth and team-mate Valtteri Bottas was sixth on the grid in Singapore.

But with just six of the 20 rounds remaining, the gap between Hamilton and Vettel - who had led until only two races ago - is the biggest it has been so far in an otherwise hard-fought season.

Vettel will have to win four of the remaining six races just to even the score again if Hamilton were to finish second in all of them.

The Briton will not need to win another race this season if Vettel finishes lower than second on Sunday, which will mark the final running of the Sepang race after the Malaysian government announced it would not continue to fund the US$67 million (S$91 million) annual cost of staging the Grand Prix.

Vettel has staged seemingly impossible comebacks in the past, including in 2010 when he clinched his maiden title despite trailing Hamilton by 31 points with six races to go.

Hamilton, who suffered a similar championship setback to Vettel a year ago in Malaysia when his engine blew while he was leading, downplayed the Singapore race as the season's decisive turning point.

"There are lots of turning points within a year," he told reporters. "I'm going to try and make sure that was the last one."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

F1 MALAYSIAN GP

Practice 1 & 2 Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 10.55am & 2.55pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline 'C'ship gap can still be closed: Vettel'. Print Edition | Subscribe