SINGAPORE - Sebastian Vettel is under growing pressure to slash Lewis Hamilton's championship lead at this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix -- and erase Ferrari's painful memories from last year in the process.
Mercedes normally struggle at the steamy Marina Bay Circuit, but in 2017 Hamilton won from fifth on a rain-soaked grid after a first-lap shunt scuppered both Ferraris and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Ferrari and Vettel are still smarting after Hamilton won at Italy's Monza 10 days ago, despite the Marinello team locking out the front row at their home grand prix.
Vettel's first-lap spin after contact with Hamilton enabled the Englishman to extend his lead in the drivers' standings to 30 points and the German vowed to bounce straight back in Singapore, where he has won a record four times. "For sure it's a disappointment right now," Vettel said after the race. "But I am turning the page and focusing on Singapore -- I like the place and I am happy to go there."
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff warned this week that Ferrari and Red Bull would have the edge on Mercedes on the tight, twisting street circuit. But with rain forecast again this week, anything could happen. "Singapore has features that we've struggled with in the past," said Wolff. "The short straights, the slow, tight corners and the bumpy surface all make the Marina Bay Street Circuit one of the trickiest for us. On paper, the track should favour the Ferraris, but the championship fight is so close that predictions are almost meaningless."
Vettel said he was not worried about the gap to Hamilton growing to 30 points with seven races remaining, and is relishing the chance to pounce on one of his favourite tracks.
"I think we have the pace," the four-time world champion said. "The points sound a lot, but actually it doesn't take a long time to get them down."
Red Bull have suffered a lean season but will fancy their chances of picking up a second 2018 win to follow Daniel Ricciardo's triumph at Monaco's similarly twisty street circuit. The Austrian team have not won in hot, humid Singapore since 2013, when Vettel was behind the wheel, but Ricciardo has remarkably finished second in each of the past three years.
"It's a place where I have good races and finish pretty strong," said Ricciardo. "I've had four podiums and three second places in a row there, so it's about time I win the damn thing." Verstappen echoed his team-mate's optimism. "I think the whole team is looking forward to Singapore because we know we have a real chance to have a good result there," said the Dutchman, who turns 21 at the end of the month. "The race has been a strong one for us in the past and I think we should be able to challenge for a podium."
Off the track, much attention will focus on Kimi Raikkonen after Ferrari announced that the former world champion would be replaced by Monaco's Charles Leclerc, 20, next year. More than 20,000 fans had signed an online petition urging Ferrari to stick with the veteran Finn, who will now join Sauber, for one more season at least.