Ferrari heads to Brazil down but not out with the constructors’ title up for grabs, which would be its first since 2008, 10 years ago.
To keep that dream alive, the Scuderia must outscore the Silver Arrows in São Paulo by at least 13 points; setting up a scorching showdown in the desert at the 21st and final round, held at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit.
For Vettel, and teammate Kimi Räikkönen, it’s a chance to finish the year on a high – despite the difficulty of Mexico, twice now where his title battle has ended with the spoils going to Lewis Hamilton…
And the German showed true class in defeat at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez – warmly shaking the new five-time F1 World Champion’s hand, with the promise of another battle on the horizon.
“I congratulated him, and asked him to keep pushing for next year,” Vettel said. “I need him at his best to fight him again.”
And Hamilton was at his best in 2018, the Brit calm and collected – as he found a new level of confidence both in himself and his craft.
SOUNDBITE (English) JARNO TRULLI,
F1 DRIVER, 1997-2011:
“This year he's been almost perfect, I would say, while his rival, direct rival, [Sebastian] Vettel got it wrong too many times. You can get it wrong as a driver, that's part of the business but unfortunately for him he did it too many times.”
And Vettel knows only too well how mistakes can hobble a campaign – the 31-year-old saying exactly that - at the end of 2017…following high-profile incidents in Azerbaijan and Singapore.
SOUNDBITE (English) SEBASTIAN VETTEL,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I think you struggle generally in life a lot more with things that you messed up rather than got messed up for you.”
And while Hockenheim was the turning point of this year’s campaign, the German skidding on a wet track into the barriers - transforming an 8-point lead into a 17-point deficit in the standings…
Ferrari also messed up with its Singapore update, which put the Prancing Horse onto the back foot – until parts were progressively removed in Japan, and then the USA - where it was again competitive. But too late.
“It took too long,” Vettel said. “You can see it as good news, but you can also see it as bad news.”
Looking ahead to 2019, Ferrari again needs evolution not revolution, with stability across the board ensuring its next F1 car is again the class of the field… with its weaknesses ironed out.
SOUNDBITE (Italian) MAURIZIO ARRIVABENE,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, FERRARI:
“It is an exceptional Ferrari. As a reference, it’s as good as the one from 2002 and 2004, when the Reds would basically end the season many times in top positions. That said, this must be our objective from now on, having a car that is exceptional. Having a good car is not enough, because our opponents definitely don't sleep.”
But it’s not going to be easy to retain stability with an Italian media baying for blood, in the aftermath of another fallen drivers’ title chase.
Or with F1’s hottest young gun Charles Leclerc set to shake things up as Vettel’s new teammate – one who’s expected to join the fight from the outset.
SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
5-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“He is a great driver, he’s doing amazing in the team, in the car that he has. And it's a great opportunity for him to thrive. But, I think there's, naturally, comes a lot of pressure when you go into a top team like that. But I think, I think he'll do well."
For now, Brazil and Abu Dhabi are a chance for the Scuderia to show its hand on pure pace – and for Vettel to go flat-out under reduced pressure, ahead of what should be another relentless battle next year.