The 2018 Formula 1 World Championship is approaching its conclusion, and as usual, the Singapore Grand Prix has proved to be decisive. Once again, it has all but ensured Lewis Hamilton will stand atop the podium as world champion.
It seems a forgone conclusion that Hamilton will secure his fifth world championship
The race itself was straightforward. Overtaking is difficult at Singapore and so qualifying is of great importance. Hamilton produced one of his great qualifying laps to put himself on pole position, while his rival Sebastian Vettel could only manage third. Both drivers retained these positions in the race as Hamilton cruised to the win. He has now extended his championship lead to 40 points with only six races remaining.
It’s almost impossible not to compare this to a similar situation last year, when Vettel crashed early in the Singapore Grand Prix and Hamilton took a shock victory. In 2017 this gave him a 28-point championship lead with six races remaining, and he became champion with races to spare.
With an even greater lead this year, it seems a forgone conclusion that Hamilton will secure his fifth world championship. Vettel must start winning at the next three races (in Russia, Japan, and the US). Unfortunately for him these are strong tracks for both Hamilton and Mercedes, especially in the US where Hamilton has won every race for the past four years.
Throughout the season Vettel has made key mistakes
The rest of the season looks bleak for Sebastian Vettel. He will need something big to go his way: either Hamilton must suffer reliability problems, the Ferrari starts to dominate, or Vettel wins every race. It would be unfair to count Vettel out yet, as he is one of the great Formula 1 drivers and can produce his own magical performances. But now, when he needs these performances most, he fails to produce.
So how exactly has the season slipped away from Vettel? His Ferrari has been a match for the Mercedes, and he should be a match for Lewis Hamilton (they are both four-time world champions). Yet throughout the season Vettel has made key mistakes. He made a rash move at Baku, crashed in Germany, and was too optimistic at Monza. With these mistakes he has thrown away at least two wins, maybe three.
In contrast to Vettel’s struggles, Hamilton has been imperious. Already regarded among the best drivers of his generation, he has produced his greatest ever season. Many performances stick in the mind, in particular Germany, when in the rain Vettel crashed and Hamilton sped to victory, lapping much faster than any other driver on the circuit.
Going into the 2019 season it will be interesting to see if Ferrari can improve
More than anything, Hamilton’s consistency has impressed. In the 15 races so far he has stood on the podium 12 times, retiring only once in Austria. Incredibly, only twice this season has Hamilton finished a race without standing on the podium. This relentless point-scoring has provided the advantage over Vettel.
The difference between Ferrari and Mercedes as teams has also been crucial. Ferrari’s development this season has been impressive, and they have done well to produce a car equal to Mercedes. Yet Mercedes as a team package have proved far better; they are more organised, more focused, and their strategy is simply better. Going into the 2019 season it will be interesting to see if Ferrari can improve in this respect.
Unless we bear witness to an extraordinary comeback from Vettel, Hamilton will be world champion. Reflecting on this season, Ferrari and Vettel will see a missed opportunity. As Vettel recently said, the biggest problem they have is not with battling Mercedes, but with battling themselves.