SAO PAULO • Sebastian Vettel committed himself on Thursday to a Ferrari team who are spending €450 million (S$689.9 million) this season, yet have not won a race.
As Ferrari appealed against the 10-second penalty that relegated him from third to fifth at the Mexican Grand Prix, he apologised publicly for the foul- mouthed outburst that caused outrage and alerted the world that relationships at the Italian team are fracturing.
The German joined the Scuderia two years ago to realise the dream of becoming a world champion in red, but he now faces the prospect of ending his career without that coveted title as a Ferrari driver.
He refused to accept the dream was over in his first public appearance since his tirade turned the air over Mexico blue.
"The hopes and expectations for this year were high," he said at the Brazilian Grand Prix. "We haven't achieved what we set out to achieve but, nevertheless, our main target is to win the championship.
"There is a lot of change that is going on inside the team that will make us stronger, I'm pretty confident about that."
The most famous Formula One team - and their four-time world champion whose contract expires at the end of next season - are under extreme pressure as the sport pitches up in Sao Paulo.
The last time that a Ferrari driver fought for the world championship was here at Interlagos in 2012 when Fernando Alonso lost out - ironically to Vettel in a Red Bull.
Ferrari's slide from grace is worrying F1's chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, who has been working behind the scenes to push team principal Maurizio Arrivabene into drastic action.
Arrivabane has ordered a widespread reorganisation behind the scenes but doubts are growing whether the team have the manpower to bring about the technical innovations that will give Vettel a competitive car.
Money is no object and insiders claim that this year's budget will be the biggest in the paddock at €450 million.
But the clock is ticking: F1 will go through the biggest technical shake-up in a generation next season and few believe that Ferrari can match Mercedes or Red Bull.
If Vettel has to endure another year such as this, his dark mood will deepen further. The frustration was never more evident than in Mexico where he laid into race director Charlie Whiting.
Vettel apologised for his words after the race and later wrote to Whiting. His frustration was also evident in his block of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in the final moments, incurring a penalty that cost him a first podium finish since Italy in September.
Ferrari reversed their decision not to appeal against the penalty by lodging a demand on Thursday for a rethink by the stewards in Sao Paulo. In their request, Ferrari said "new elements have come to light" to support their view that, even if the result cannot be changed, it was important to set a precedent.
Earlier Vettel repeated that he did not agree with the stewards' decision. "I think I moved over once to defend my position," he said. "After that, I think I gave Daniel enough room on the inside."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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