Was Vettel's loss to Hamilton down to the battle in the mind?
The 2018 F1 season was one where Lewis Hamilton ruled in a manner which seemed an iron-fisted triumph in the end.
But at one point in time, it wasn't always all Hamilton or was it?
Right at the start of the 2018 F1 season, Ferrari, who begun well by winning the Australian Grand Prix, would go on to prove that their season-opener flourish wasn't a flash in the pan. They would do so by proving their dominance at Bahrain.
At Sakhir, a night safari no less thrilling than the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the sparkle of the shiny red would undermine the glow of the Silver Arrows.
Just who was the man in charge? It wasn't Lewis; it was his antithesis Sebastian Vettel.
One did wonder then, what more would Vettel may have wanted? So how come in a sport, where things are about strong pace and consistency, did Mercedes show Ferrari 'how it's done', yet again?
When you are winning everything and dominating, it all appears easy. But when you are not, things suddenly change and appear different.
So can it be said that Sebastian Vettel who began 2018 with a mighty psychological and mathematical advantage over Hamilton, by scoring 50 points first up, was unable to cope up with things when they went differently?
While one cannot sufficiently offer an explanation to that regard, it does appear that while Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were good in the sense of calling the shots early on, as also the case in 2017, they just weren't any good in fighting back, or were they?
To abstain from condescension, as one must, it should be stated that nothing could be further from the truth that Vettel didn't have the fire to win if that is what some may have actually put it down to.
You can become a world champion if you are assisted by luck. You can win another title if fortune does favor the brave in you, provided you try in the first place. But you simply do not become a four-time world champion, someone running in the top candidature to grab a fifth title -- rewinding back to the events at the conclusion of Bahrain 2018 -- with two race wins already secured.
That said, it does appear that Sebastian Vettel lagging behind Hamilton eventually may have got something to do in mental strength and the ability to forge a tough fightback in the end.
It wasn't going to be easy for Vettel, anyways. Lewis likes to lose only in dreams. But if there's ever going to be a book on the lines of something like bouncing back when the chips are down, and dominating from thereon, then Hamilton should make for a mighty impressive author.
Last year, Lewis saw Ferrari dominate at the Hungaroring. He would enter the mid-season break staring at the lead Ferrari's Vettel had over him. This year, he'd prove that there's something worthy in holding onto a psychological advantage by not allowing the cars in red as he turned the tables on Vettel at Hungaroring.
Moreover, that Vettel seemed, at certain points during the season, arguably the more troubled driver of the two competing for top glory, was only exacerbated by an ordinary showing at Baku.
This leaves us questioning whether what might have happened had the German, upon the resumption of the race, post the safety car interruption period, not locked up a wheel under braking on a sharp turn?
Similarly, what might have happened had Vettel been a steady hand during those intense, key moments such as the rain during Hockenheim -- another race he seemed certain to win?
That Ferrari had a car that could've readily caused damage to Mercedes was, in no way, indicative of one going way over in one's head. The SF-70 H was seen by some as a perfect opportunity for the Scuderia to launch an assault, and it did, on many an occasion, challenge Mercedes.
But that Vettel wasn't able to perhaps do what his own teammate managed -- Raikkonen winning the US GP at the back of a few questions on his career, especially given his ouster from Ferrari bringing real intent at Monza -- may hold an answer.
Fundamentally speaking, at the outset, it seems funny to even compare Raikkonen's tally in 2018 to Vettel's but it probably tells us something.
Maybe that the Finn gathered 1 race win vis-a-vis Sebastian's 5 doesn't even sound a legit premise to compare the laconic Finn to the fiery German.
But that Kimi demonstrated a mental toughness to himself, despite having had his back against the wall given the massive public outcry amid which the news of his Ferrari exit was confirmed, (around Monza) underlines that racing isn't just about wanting to win. It's about the desire to contest without losing enthusiasm from defeats. Isn't it?
There's nothing one can take away from the German's triumph at Spa -- a race where he was nearly flying -- and the spectacle of his pass on Hamilton on the main straights became a picture perfect 2018 postcard moment. But the fact that Vettel wasn't able to claw his way back into the remainder of the season showed that maybe he didn't hammer the nail tight quite as Hamilton did.
It's never easy to commence a season post a mid-season break with a win as one would understand.
There are certain things that only Hamilton can manage.
And his big wins at Singapore, Japan, Monza marked the Briton's fury in a part of the season where one's prepared to launch an all-out strike of sorts.
While 2019 brings forth another year to expect the best from the German, perhaps he may want to also win the battle that remains in the mind?Modified 30 Dec 2018, 02:31 IST