Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will have to do everything possible in order to keep the pressure firmly on Lewis Hamilton at this weekend’s German Grand Prix. At the midway point of the Formula One season — the 11th race out of 21 — Seb holds only an eight-point lead over rival Lewis Hamilton in an intriguing title contest.
The German driver started strongly, then Hamilton took over, and now Vettel appears to be in the ascendancy again. While he leads Hamilton only 4-3 in wins this season, Vettel’s most recent victory was particularly poignant seeing it was at Hamilton’s home track at Silverstone — where Hamilton has enjoyed huge success. Vettel’s win there heaped more misery on the British driver, considering he’d experienced a rare retirement at the Austrian GP one week earlier.
In previous years, Scuderia Ferrari was the team experiencing technical problems and frustrating inconsistency. Now the roles appear reversed, and Mercedes is the team under pressure. Having won the last four drivers’ and constructors’ championships, often by huge margins, Mercedes lags 20 points behinds Ferrari. There have been communication errors and strategy mistakes within Mercedes. For Hamilton, who along with Vettel is vying for a coveted fifth F1 crown, these problems are hard to accept.
Last year, the pressure seemed to affect Vettel more, but this time Hamilton is the one showing signs of strain. Rapidly overtaken from pole position at the British GP, Hamilton was then shunted off the track following a collision with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. After Hamilton fought back brilliantly from last place to an impressive second place, he made comments about Ferrari’s “interesting tactics” — implying Raikkonen had done it on purpose as part of team strategy. Hamilton subsequently apologized, calling his own comment “dumb.” While Sebastian Vettel has upped his level from 2017, Hamilton has still shown his trademark speed and consistency, aside from a poor start at Silverstone.
Mercedes has often taken the blame for Hamilton’s setbacks, right up to the top. With Mercedes wobbling, and Hamilton getting agitated, the timing seems right for Sebastian to strike another blow at Hockenheim on Sunday. The German race is returning after being dropped last year for financial reasons. Home fans will be in the unusual position of cheering a German driver (Vettel) in an Italian car, competing against a British driver (Hamilton) and his Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas in German cars.