In The Driver's Seat

All positive on the home straight

Could there have been a better result in Monza, from the point of view of the World Championship battle over the remaining seven races?

Sebastian Vettel has led it since Australia, with Lewis Hamilton closing it down to one point at one stage, then seeing it open up again.

Now, as the season's first back-to-back winner, the Englishman has propelled himself into a three-point lead as the circus heads for Singapore in just under two weeks' time.

In truth, the Italian Grand Prix was not a great sporting contest. Hamilton led every lap apart from the 32nd and 33rd as he made his sole pit stop. And Vettel was a lonely third from the eighth lap on.

It was thus down to the Red Bull drivers, ridiculously penalised 25 and 20 places down the grid by a system that is coming under increasing criticism (and which Ross Brawn promises to revise by, at the latest 2021), to provide much of the excitement.

Daniel Ricciardo fought up brilliantly from 16th to fourth, only four seconds adrift of Vettel.

And but for a clash with Felipe Massa on the third lap which punctured his front right tyre and forced him to make an early stop and to switch to a two-stop strategy, Max Verstappen would have been with him.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel is confident things will improve ahead of the Singapore GP. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Instead, the Dutchman had to fight back from last place to 10th, grabbing the final point.

There were also good performances from the new boys. Lance Stroll benefited from Williams' higher downforce set-up in Saturday's rain to become F1's youngest-ever front-row starter, and took a solid seventh position.

And Force India's Esteban Ocon drove beautifully in the early stages to run second for the first three laps, then third for the next four, before inevitably succumbing first to Valtteri Bottas and then to Vettel in their faster cars.

Kimi Raikkonen, however, did not find him easy prey, and it was not until Lap 26 that the second Ferrari claimed fifth place.

Every sport needs fresh blood, and Ocon in particular has the look of a future world champion.

While the race winner praised his team and spoke of the manner in which they had improved ... the man who finished a whopping 36sec back was bursting with confidence despite his loss.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the race, which brought Hamilton his 59th career victory the day after he had established a new record with 69 pole positions, was the respective attitudes of the two main title contenders.

While the race winner praised his team and spoke of the manner in which they had improved his car since Spa, the man who finished a whopping 36sec back was bursting with confidence despite his loss.

"At Spa there were sections where Ferrari were really killing us. But our team analysed these and found areas in the set-up where we were not so comfortable," said Hamilton.

"I'm sure this weekend we have learnt more to put us in a better position in Singapore, though I still expect Ferrari to be better in the slow- and medium-speed corners. But I'm going there with the attitude that we will try to win."

For Vettel, being optimistic was the way to go. "You could say it was a bad day, but the team is on the right way and there is a lot of stuff that is going to improve," he said.

The Singapore GP looks likely to be another humdinger, but both men clearly believe that their fight for supremacy will go right down to the wire in Abu Dhabi in November, and are planning their campaigns accordingly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline 'All positive on the home straight'. Print Edition | Subscribe