SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel arrived in Singapore seeking a spark to reignite his title challenge but the German will leave Southeast Asia further adrift of championship leader Lewis Hamilton after another disappointing race in a season full of low points.
Poor tactical driving, strategic errors and a first-lap spin at Monza last time out left the Ferrari driver 30 points behind Hamilton with seven rounds remaining, and Singapore was seen as pivotal in helping arrest Vettel’s mid-season decline.
Ferrari were heavy favourites to win around the floodlit Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend, yet once Hamilton had coaxed his Mercedes to a stunning pole position, Vettel was firmly on the back foot as his title rival eased to victory.
Vettel ended up third behind Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, losing another 10 points to the Briton with the prospect of a Mercedes-friendly circuit in Sochi next up on the calendar likely to further dampen his mood.
“Lewis said he didn’t expect to come here and gain 10 points and we probably didn’t expect to lose 10,” Vettel told reporters after he finished almost 40 seconds behind the Briton.
“I never believed we had the fastest car by a big margin as people said — I know we have a good car.
“The speed is there and today, if anything, we were a little bit slower. But it’s difficult to draw conclusions as I had a very different race,” he added, before turning his attention to the final six rounds of the season.
“I don’t think we have any tracks to fear that are coming, so no need to be afraid of what’s coming.”
Starting third on the grid, Vettel did get past Verstappen on the opening lap but after he was held up by Force India’s Sergio Perez following his pit stop, the Dutchman retook second place after his own change of tyres.
“I will always defend the team. The decisions we took in the race, to try and be aggressive, were to try and win the race and when it works it’s great,” he added of Ferrari’s ploy of calling him in for an early stop.
“But overall we had a very strong package, both (team mate) Kimi (Raikkonen) and myself looked very competitive throughout practice, but in the end the race result we finished third and fifth. Like yesterday, not where the speed of our car belongs.
“That’s what I mean when I said we didn’t get everything out of ourselves. It was pretty obvious what we tried to do and it didn’t work.”
Ferrari had hoped the early stop and change to the quick ultrasoft tyres would give Vettel an advantage over Hamilton and Verstappen but the scheme backfired once the Red Bull driver emerged from his pit stop ahead of the German.
“The strategy was to get ahead of Lewis, which didn’t work, and it was a pity that we lost the second place. Then the main focus was to maintain the third position,” Vettel said.
“We tried to get to first position and get ahead, but Lewis was too quick. Once you are ahead you can control the pace around here, but we never got ahead.”
Reporting by John O'Brien, editing by Ed Osmond