Sebastian Vettel heads into the break despondent, third in Hungary but more than a minute off the winner Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. A 94-point gap in the standings all but ending his title chase.
It’s a world away from the same point last season, when the four-time F1 World Champion was second in the standings behind Hamilton… just 24 points adrift, and four race wins in the bank.
His victory at the next round in Belgium clawing that gap to just 17 points before Hamilton went on a blitz, winning six of the last eight races, to put daylight between the two for his fifth crown.
Incredibly, Belgium remains Vettel’s last win - his 52nd overall - for a 20-race drought… and in a season that was looking like Ferrari’s, going on its searing pre-season testing pace.
2019 is also Vettel’s fifth year with the Scuderia, matching the five it took for his childhood idol Michael Schumacher to lift the title for Ferrari.
SOUNDBITE (English) SEBASTIAN VETTEL,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“Obviously I think we've come close some years, a bit further away some other years, but overall I think we are getting closer, the team is still growing. So high hopes, and I hope we are going to have a lot of fun and win a lot of races and fight for the championship.”
His home race in Germany was bittersweet. Vettel starting from 20th and last, after a problem with air to the turbo forced him out of Q1.
But then he stormed from 20th to second place, the third driver to do that at Hockenheim after Juan-Pablo Montoya in 2005, and Hamilton in 2014.
The German scything from fifth to second across the last four laps, again demonstrating his champion pedigree - which hasn’t always shone in the last few campaigns…
The pressure of driving for Ferrari and having to constantly overdrive the car to reach Mercedes… forcing mistakes.
Mistakes that no one could have envisaged at the end of 2013, as Vettel took 13 race wins… including nine straight to end the season. Setting up the move to Ferrari, which seemed like a match made in heaven.
SOUNDBITE (English) LUCA DI MONTEZEMOLO,
“If you ask me, Vettel could be a good driver for the future of Ferrari - the answer is yes. He is young. He is a four-time [F1] champion of the world. Very good guy. Good Ferrari client.”
SOUNDBITE (English) GERHARD BERGER:
F1 DRIVER 1984-1997:
“We know his capacity, we know his strengths, we know very clear what he can do. He proved it with four times world championship in Red Bull, so I always thought he was the perfect choice for Ferrari. Very clear, very German mentality, very structured, very hard worker, quick, he is a winner.”
The last few seasons have worn him down, and hollowed out his reputation with mistakes galore. But races like Germany, where he charged through to onto the podium - remind everyone of his calibre.
There’s no doubt that Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc is the long-term future of the Scuderia, the Monégasque a super talent with huge stores of untapped potential…
But there’s still time for the boy from Heppenheim to win his fifth crown at Ferrari, before the sun sets on his career, should the Scuderia pick up its game on all fronts.
… which it needs to do in the second half of this season to ensure that it has the campaign in 2020 it should have had this year.
It’s all on the line as Ferrari returns to Maranello a disappointment