SINGAPORE - The disaster that befell Ferrari at the start of the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix may have done untold damage to Sebastian Vettel's aspirations of a fifth world title.
Marina Bay was the one circuit remaining in the title fight on which Ferrari were staking everything on being significantly faster than Mercedes. After a false start on Friday, they got their act together after a massive effort between the engineers on site, and those back at the factory in Maranello, where F2 points leader and 2018 Sauber driver-elect Charles Leclerc did a lot of hard work in the simulator.
All of that paid off with a brilliant pole position for Vettel, but even he admitted that he had to work very, very hard to beat the Red Bulls.
All that was rendered academic after the collision between the two red cars and Max Verstappen's Red Bull at the start, and Vettel now has a mountain to climb, 28 points adrift of race winner Lewis Hamilton with six races left.
He recently ventured the opinion that Ferrari, traditionally better than Mercedes on the high-downforce tracks, no longer have anything to fear on any type of circuit. And now he must be praying that is the case, but he'll need to win the next four, assuming Hamilton is runner-up, just to draw level.
Malaysia is next, and Hermann Tilke's first Asian design venture comprises a lot of long, fast and flowing corners which require a compromise between high and medium downforce. Overall, the advantage should be with Mercedes there, though the unpredictable weather can add a new dimension; one minute it can be hot enough literally to fry an egg on the asphalt, the next raining torrentially.
Suzuka follows a week later, and this is a mixture of slow-, medium- and high-speed corners. It requires high downforce, and thus tends to favour Ferrari.
Austin, in Texas, has always been a happy hunting ground for Lewis Hamilton, who has won four of the five races held there, Vettel taking the other in 2013.
It's an amalgam of many other tracks, borrowing a slow corner here, a set of fast sweeps there. The disparate nature of the corners makes the choice of downforce difficult for the engineers - the fast ones are quicker than Spa, the slow ones slower than Hungaroring. Even stevens here between Mercedes and Ferrari.
Mexico has the shortest period of full throttle running of the remaining tracks - 47 per cent compared to 60+, yet combines slow and very fast corners and requires only slightly more downforce than Monza. Advantage Mercedes, again.
Brazil has the shortest lap on the calendar, but the mix of two long straights and a lot of high-energy corners generates another compromise on downforce, especially for the long climb out of the last corner and past the pits, where much of the overtaking occurs. Advantage Ferrari.
Finally, Abu Dhabi is another Tilke track, with some slow corners but a very long - 1.2 km - straight, which obliges teams to run medium downforce. Advantage Mercedes.
Right from the start of the season, Hamilton has maintained that the rate of development that each team can sustain would be the deciding factor in the fight between Mercedes and Ferrari.
The latter introduced significant updates in both the Belgian and Italian races. Hamilton won both, as expected, since they were on high-speed, low-downforce tracks. But the fact that Vettel was only 2.3 seconds adrift at Spa-Francorchamps, where the Mercedes should have murdered the Ferrari, and that Hamilton himself admitted that would not have won had Vettel started from pole, was indication of how well Ferrari were developing their car.
Mercedes have upgrades coming in time for Malaysia and Japan, intended to improve their car's performance on medium-speed, high-downforce tracks.
But both teams face the dilemma of just how much development to invest in their 2017 cars, at a time when their design engineers back home are working flat out on their 2018 models.
Red Bull's performance here indicates yet again just how much progress they have made since Adrian Newey came back on to the design team at the start of the European season. Singapore was their best chance to shine, but the possibly should not be dismissed that they could take points of either of the top teams, which could have a deleterious impact on their campaigns.
It would be most unwise to suggest that the battle is over, but assuredly Singapore has made things an awful lot tougher for the man who led it for so long. Just as Hamilton said he needed a miracle in this race, so Vettel will be praying for one in those that remain. firstname.lastname@example.org