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The race for a fifth – Can Vettel get the better of Hamilton?

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With the Formula 1 paddock returning from the summer break, all eyes turn to the fight for a fifth title between Sebastian Vettel and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton. We got two of our reporters to debate on why they think their driver will be champion.

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Gary Jones – “Ifs will need to be eliminated”

“Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Sebastian Vettel is prone to a rush of blood to the head and this can lead to some rather ‘silly’ moments. Of course, we can all remember the story from Azerbaijan last season and the incidents between Sebastian and Mark Webber, like ‘Multi-21’ and Turkey 2010. Just a few examples there. Perhaps we can also place the start of the French GP from this season into that category. Although I am more inclined to call that an poor error or judgement that morphed into a racing incident, should a four-time world champion really be making those types of simple errors?

Despite these moments, I do believe that Sebastian can be world champion by the time the season closes in Abu Dhabi. The greatest benefit that he has over his rivals right now is the Ferrari engine, or to be correct ‘power unit’. It is a sign of how hard the team have been working of late that their power unit is a match for the mighty Mercedes, who have dominated the turbo-hybrid era. They are even being regarded THE best in the business at this time. The fact that customers Haas and Sauber have improved so well in 2018 is certainly down to the improvements under the shell by Ferrari. The next two rounds (Spa and Monza) will certainly prove who has the advantage in this sector.

This year’s SF71H chassis is also one of the best the Scuderia have produced for many years. Last year’s car was possibly better than Mercedes’ but the engine didn’t show the improvement needed. The fact that team-mate Kimi Raikkonen has been able to raise his game this season is largely due to the car being more drivable and adaptable for both drivers. Add this to the extra reliability Ferrari seem to show over Mercedes and you have a recipe for success, should the drivers produce.

The tally of race wins so far in 2018 shows Hamilton’s five to Vettel’s four. In points, it’s 213 to 189. Without the oh-so-small-lock-up with dramatic effects in the German rain and that first corner incident in France, the win count should be at least equal and the points should be in the favour of the German. ‘If’ is a big word in sport though, and these ‘ifs’ will need to be emliminated for Vettel to claim his fifth world title. Consistency, reliability and calmness will be vital.

Finally, remember Sebastian is already a four-time world champion and two of those season (2010 and 2012) went down to the last race meaning he can run the distance. You don’t forget how to win. You don’t forget what it takes to fight to the very last moment. I guarantee you Sebastian hasn’t forgotten.”

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David Whitehouse – “Lewis can handle the pressure”

“Lewis Hamilton, a four time world champion and champion for three of the last four years. Momentum in sport is so important and that is exactly what Lewis has right now. Even when it’s not your day, luck can run for you when momentum is on your side. Just look at Germany, where Lewis should never have won that race.

A Lewis Hamilton on top form is ‘unbeatable’. Even an in-form Fernando Alonso could not beat Lewis on his day in the same car when Lewis made his debut in 2007 and I fully believe that we are seeing the best version on track of Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes years. The McLaren years were successful but we saw many mistakes from Lewis, especially in 2011 when Lewis couldn’t seem to keep away from Felipe Massa.

But Lewis hasn’t been on the best of forms this season. Early in the season, it looked like Valtteri Bottas could be the strongest driver in the Mercedes especially when it took Lewis until round four in Azerbaijan to win a race and even that one could be counted as ‘lucky’ after Bottas retired late on and Vettel fell back to fourth after leading half the race. It was not until Spain where we saw the dominant Lewis that we are used to seeing. Even in Canada, where Lewis always goes well, it was a downbeat Hamilton qualifying fourth and finishing in fifth.

Since that surprise in Canada, Lewis has been on a run of three wins and a second in the last five races. Only a retirement in Austria, where he was in contention for the win before a strategy error by Mercedes, broke his run of podiums. That backs what I said about momentum.

The mistakes we saw at McLaren always seem to come while trying to push a car beyond its limits when it wasn’t the fastest. Lewis does not seem to do that any more and is experienced enough to know that points make prizes. The self-proclaimed Mercedes ‘diva’ is not the dominant car on every circuit it once was, partially due to Ferrari’s progress with their chassis but at the end of the day, is the Mercedes that bad? Well no, it’s not. It’s possibly one of the best cars built in recent years but in sport, it is all relative to their rivals.

Finally, Lewis can handle the pressure of a title fight. He has been involved in many including in his debut year in 2007, where a gearbox issue pretty much cost him the world championship. He can deal with the pressure if the championship goes to the wire. Lewis’ previous form around Abu Dhabi could also work in his favour.

Sebastian has only had to deal with two title deciders, 2010, where there was no pressure on him as everyone expected Webber and Alonso to take the title and 2012, where he went in as favourite but a spin on lap one after contact with Bruno Senna so had nothing to lose. Many think Sebastian buckled under pressure that day as he cut across Senna’s nose at turn four when room could have been given. The argument against his own team-mate after that race for not helping him led to incidents like ‘Multi-21’. If anyone is more desperate for the title, it’s Sebastian, and that will work in favour of Lewis when the Ferrari is so strong this year.”

 

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