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Ferrari speed still gives some hope to Vettel

By Reuters - Oct 02,2017 - Last updated at Oct 02,2017

Ferrari’s German driver Sebastian Vettel drives his car during the Formula One Malaysia Grand Prix in Sepang on Sunday (AFP photo by Mohd Rasfan)

SEPANG, Malaysia — Sebastian Vettel fell further behind Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton after Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, but the Ferrari driver still saw cause for optimism in the title battle.

Starting in last place after a power unit problem prevented him setting a time in qualifying, with his Mercedes rival lining up on pole position, the German made the best of a bad situation. 

His remarkable recovery drive to fourth, combined with Hamilton being beaten by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, meant Vettel limited the damage to six points.

While that still stretched Hamilton’s overall advantage to a hefty 34 points with only five of the 20 races left, it was better than the German might have feared.

“I am still optimistic, because we know that we have a quick car,” said Vettel, who nearly snatched third from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

“It’s been a difficult weekend, but nevertheless the speed is there.”

Vettel’s title hopes have been dealt a severe blow for two races in a row now.

An opening lap crash at the last race in Singapore, where he had started on pole, cost him 25 points to Hamilton, who capitalised to win from fifth. 

The four-times champion had gone into the Malaysian weekend 28 points behind his rival.

Had Hamilton won on Sunday with Vettel fourth, or outscored the 30-year-old by more than seven points, the Briton would have moved into a position to win the title no matter what the German did, including winning the next five races.

Kimi Raikkonen’s failure to start Sunday’s Malaysia race compounded Ferrari’s misery.

Raikkonen said it was “pointless” to ponder what might have been after the chance of a potential victory went begging for the Finn when he failed to start Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

The 37-year-old was set to start on the front row of the grid alongside Lewis Hamilton after being beaten to pole position by the Briton by just 0.045 seconds on Saturday.

He reported a loss of power, however, as he drove around the circuit on the way to the grid and was wheeled back into the pits.

“I noticed it on the way to the grid, it came out of nowhere,” Raikkonen told reporters.

“It’s disappointing for all of us but it’s nothing we can change.”

Sunday’s race could have been Raikkonen’s best chance of victory this season at the track where he took his first Formula One win in 2003.

Vettel, meanwhile, could still be hit with a grid penalty at the next race in Japan if he is forced to change his car’s gearbox following a bizarre post-race collision with Williams rookie Lance Stroll.

Still, the Maranello outfit can take some heart from the pace Vettel displayed and Mercedes’ struggles.

Vettel set the fastest lap and a lap record on his charge through the field on Sunday even as Mercedes struggled for the second weekend in a row with a car described by team boss Toto Wolff as “capricious”.

“It’s further cause to continue to believe in ourselves,” said Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene.

 

“We have the car, the men, the drivers, the means and the spirit to fight all the way to the finish.” 

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