In The Driver's Seat

Ferrari floundering in the race against time

No matter how brave a face Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari might have managed to present to the world in Austin on Sunday evening, the beating that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes dished out will have had a pole-axing effect.

Throughout their recent tribulations, Ferrari had firmly believed that they had the best car - one that may not have quite the grunt of the Mercedes in qualifying, but one that had better race pace. And the only thing preventing them from realising its potential were cruel circumstances:

•The accident Vettel triggered at the start in Singapore that took him and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen out of the race when a 1-2 was on the cards;

•The turbo pipe problems that affected Vettel in qualifying in Malaysia, and then Raikkonen prior to the start; and

•The spark plug malfunction that ruined Vettel's race in Japan.

On Sunday, to Ferrari's delight that they may have turned the corner, Vettel grabbed the initiative off the start line and seemed set to kick-start his title challenge again with a crucial victory as Hamilton was forced to drop in behind him.

That Hamilton was not only able to stalk him but to also pass him seemingly at will on the sixth lap is another hammer blow to the Scuderia's psyche. Vettel suggested he had been taken by surprise because he had not expected to be overtaken at that spot.

No doubt, Mercedes had a far better car, against all expectations faster and kinder to its tyres. It was thus fitting that they wrapped up the constructors' world title.

No doubt, Mercedes had a far better car, against all expectations faster and kinder to its tyres. It was thus fitting that they wrapped up the constructors' world title.

Team boss Toto Wolff paid tribute to the workers in the factories in Brackley and Brixworth in England, and back in Stuttgart. He correctly pointed out that to do so across a rule change was unique and that it was achieved because every member dug deeper to find performance and, in what might have been seen as a dig at Ferrari's recent troubles, because each was even more diligent on reliability.

It was also deeply disappointing that a brilliant drive by Max Verstappen, who is F1's future, should fail to be rewarded with the final podium position - amid the new razzmatazz that saw the drivers being introduced in some style prior to the start, and luminaries such as ex-sprinter Usain Bolt and former US president Bill Clinton helping to get the new message of inclusiveness across.

The Dutchman hauled his Red Bull from a penalised 16th on the grid to third by overtaking Raikkonen on the last lap. But as he got to the podium green room, he was told he had disrespected track limits and a five-second penalty dropped him back to fourth.

Niki Lauda called it the worst he had ever seen. Verstappen's father Jos embarked on a vitriolic and very condemnatory campaign on Twitter, and Red Bull's Christian Horner and Helmut Marko were both predictably critical.

Now rules are rules, fair enough. Verstappen did have all four wheels outside the outer white line delineating the edge of the track. But the problem comes when you start looking at other photos which suggest that others got away with it.

If the rules are to be enforced strictly, then they should apply to everyone, in all cases, or to no one. Otherwise, changing the order of what spectators have seen can only be confusing and detrimental and risk undoing the good that Liberty Media's initiatives seek to do.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Ferrari floundering in the race against time'. Print Edition | Subscribe