Following the Japanese Grand Prix Vettel’s chances of winning the 2018 F1 Championship have diminished to barely more than a dream. Following a season in which both Hamilton and Vettel have been closely matched throughout this is a bitter pill to swallow for Ferrari.

Following the first 10 races where a maximum of 250 points were on offer only 8 points separated the drivers with Vettel barely ahead. This was indicative of an enthralling contest where the title battle swung one way then the next with plenty of surprise results along the way. This had been by far the most interesting Championship battle for nearly a decade with both drivers aiming for their 5th world title. However, Hamilton has outscored Vettel by 75 points in the last 7 races and turned an 8-point deficit into a massive 67-point advantage with only 4 races remaining. He can now wrap up the Championship at the next Grand Prix in the USA. This would have been unthinkable even a couple of months ago. So how have we got to this point?

Ferrari and Vettel have simply made too many errors in a contest of this nature with the margins so fine. It has been a decade since Ferrari last won a Championship battle whilst Mercedes have won every title since 2014. Mercedes has become a well-oiled winning machine, demonstrated by their use of team orders in Russia to ask Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate, to move over so that Hamilton could win the race and further extend his lead over Vettel. Vettel himself has made significant errors throughout the Championship including at the German Grand Prix where he spun off out of the race whilst leading, in Italy where he defended his position too hard and was sent into a spin ending up at the back of the field and in Japan where he tried to dive down the inside Verstappen which yet again saw him spun around and at the back of the field. In total his errors have probably cost him conservatively 70 points in points directly lost and points gained by Hamilton as a direct result of his errors. Given this he should be ahead in standings.

Vettel is a 4-time world champion who is used to the pressure. He won his first championship having been only 3rd coming into the final race of the season and had to fight off Alonso, considered one of the greatest drivers of the modern era, in a tight battle to win his 3rd championship as well. This is in no so small part down to his relationship with Ferrari. Driving for Ferrari itself brings on more pressure given the prestige and the expectation. On top of this Vettel doesn’t seem to have faith in Ferrari to execute effectively to give him the best chance to win. He has often called into question Ferrari’s strategy from the car and attempted to dictate strategy calls from the cockpit. These distractions can’t help a driver achieve their potential within the car and these doubts are not without merit. Ferrari have also made a series of operational errors which have cost Vettel. Most notably in Italy where Vettel’s teammate ended up on pole position when Ferrari could easily have manufactured a situation to put Vettel on pole and in Japan where Ferrari sent Vettel out on the wrong tyres designed for wet conditions when the track was dry enough to use slick tyres. Whilst a borderline decision the rest of the field managed to get it right, so the question is why didn’t Ferrari. Hamilton has made errors as well, particularly by not extracting most out of the car in the early part of the season. Mercedes have been guilty of slipping up such as in Austria where Hamilton initially lost the lead due to a team error and then ultimately retired from the race with a mechanical problem with his car. However, these errors have been few and far between and significantly there is a great synergy in the team, with the team and Hamilton working effectively together to bridge their respective flaws, such as in Russia where Hamilton was able to overtake Vettel following a team error which allowed Vettel to get in front. It is clear that Hamilton trusts his team 100% to make the right calls and he therefore only has to focus on driving as fast as he can.

Hamilton has all but sealed the title for this year, but it has been a fantastic year in Formula 1. It is encouraging to see 2 teams slugging it out having seen Mercedes dominate since 2014. Ferrari will rue what could have been considering they’ve had a car fast enough to win the championship this year and will need to build on the success they’ve had this year. With the cars being redesigned next year to aid overtaking and hopefully Ferrari pushing Mercedes even closer for the title, the 2019 season looks set to be a cracker.