The odds of Sebastian Vettel becoming 2017 world champion have plummeted in recent weeks, thanks to his first-lap elimination in Singapore and his back-row start at Sepang. So, with a 34-point deficit to standings leader Lewis Hamilton, can Vettel get his campaign back on track at Suzuka this weekend? This was one of several questions posed by the media in Japan on Thursday…
Q: Sebastian, before Singapore the fight for the driver’s championship was pretty equal between you and Lewis (Hamilton). Since Malaysia a lot of fans wonder: will he still be able to turn things around? What hope can you give them?
Sebastian Vettel: There is always hope. Sure, the last two races were far from being ideal, but we will continue to work hard. To bury one’s head in the sand is absolutely no option. And what is important is that our car is good.
Q: But given what happened in Malaysia, obviously there is something wrong with the car?
SV: As I just said, the package is right. We have all the right ingredients – now we have to bring it to the track. And hopefully one or the other things works out to our advantage. Lately that was not really the case.
Q: How would you rate your title chances with five races to go?
SV: We have a chance. And we have to make sure we use it.
Q: Does it suit your personality, being the hunter rather than the hunted?
SV: We are so used to hunting – after hundredths and thousandths of a second – so this comes naturally. But, of course, if I could choose I would want it the other way around. But Formula One is not a request program, so you have to take it as it comes. And that means if we are in the position to win a race, we have to win it!
Q: After two difficult races, what is the prevailing mood: disappointment or confidence?
SV: Confidence. I have never been the type who is looking behind too much. And had the last two races been fantastic, you also would not look behind saying: ‘Wow, that was a ball!’ I always look ahead – that keeps up the concentration.
Q: Starting from last position at Sepang and finishing in P4 was quite remarkable. But does it mean that from now on Ferrari need to be absolutely perfect at the last five races to maintain any title chance?
SV: We are behind, so all will depend on what Mercedes is doing. And one thing is clear: we need to score more than them! How we achieve it doesn’t matter, as long as we achieve it!
Q: Ferrari have given your gearbox the all-clear following your collision with Lance Stroll on the warm-down lap in Malaysia. How big a fear was it that you might have had to change it and incur a grid penalty?
SV: To be honest not that much. After there was an intense check of the car it became evident that no change is necessary, that everything was okay.
Q: You and Lance seemed to have pretty differing opinions on your crash. Have you been spoken to him since?
SV: No, I saw him quickly in the TV pen after the race – but not after that.
Q: You have always liked the Suzuka track. How confident are you that you can turn your fortunes around on Sunday?
SV: Hey, this is Thursday – and there is still some water to run under the bridge before Sunday. Yes, there is still a lot work to be done and I am focusing completely on that and not getting lost in daydreams of what might happen on Sunday. Work is what definitely will happen in the next two days!
And it is not just that I like this track, it is the track for me – simply because it is still a circuit in the mould of the traditional tracks of the past: a driver’s track. True, we have not been competitive enough here in the last two years, so I hope this time it is different. So what I can say is that I am fairly open minded and confident that we will have a strong package.