Sebastian Vettel insists the atmosphere at Ferrari has not been poisoned by the team’s recent run of disappointing results.
Over the course of the last five races, Vettel has seen his chances of winning the championship start to slip away as his title rival Lewis Hamilton has stormed to four victories. Ferrari has arguably had the faster car for the majority of that time, but a combination of mistakes, collisions and poor performances have allowed Hamilton to open up a 40-point gap to Vettel in the standings.
At the last round in Singapore, Vettel qualified and finished third on a circuit where Ferrari was expected to dominate. But Vettel insists the lack of performance has not damaged morale in the team.
“No, I think it’s pretty much the opposite,” he said. “Obviously some races didn’t go the way we wanted to, the way I wanted to…
“But I think it’s pretty much the opposite, all the guys in the team, it’s late in the year, everybody has had a very, very tough season, but to be honest it was very uplifting to see, to come back in the garage even after maybe disappointing races and results. But everybody’s extremely motivated and saying nice things and meaning it, to me.
“I think this really helped me to overcome these sort of races, and also I have to say, the energy I got from the outside, from fans and supporters, in Singapore before the race, after the race, and also here, little messages — it’s really nice to receive positive news maybe in times where most of what you expect is probably negative.
“But I don’t think that has been the problem, so I didn’t really have to go in there and tell them to keep their head up. If anything, it’s been the other way around and they’ve done well.”
If Vettel wins all six of the remaining races with Hamilton in second place, he will win the championship by two clear points, while Hamilton only needs three wins and a podium before the end of the year to guarantee victory regardless of Vettel’s results. But with reliability issues during a race a constant threat to both camps, the championship could be blown open or closed shut with a single DNF.
“I think from where we are, for us it [a DNF] is obviously something that must not happen, and if it happens to the others, it could help, but it’s not the way we look long-term and we don’t look to the races that are in front of us to expect something to happen. I think you expect the others to be at their best, and we expect us to do our best to beat them.”
This weekend’s race in Russia remains a must-win for Vettel regardless and comes on a track where Ferrari locked out the front row in qualifying last year. Valtteri Bottas managed to pass Vettel into the first corner and went on to win the race in 2017, but Vettel said he was not taking any positives or negatives from the last time out in Sochi.
“We were on the front row, but there wasn’t a big gap to Valtteri who was in P3 — there was not even 0.1s,” he said. “So, if you can build a lot of confidence on not even 0.1s, then tell me how! It was very close, obviously in the race we saw it was a match and we ended up very close behind him, a couple of tenths.
“But, we’ll see, I think our car is different this year, and I think last year probably was a surprise to see that we were so competitive here, this year we sort of expect to be competitive here — but having said that, I think you need to take into account the last couple of races, where we struggled to have maybe the pace and did not put it together in the race for different reasons. I think we need to not get distracted by the results but focus on the job that we have to do and tackle every session on its own and then see where we end up.”