BUDAPEST – Momentum has ebbed and flowed in the Formula One world championship this season and going into Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the final race before the break, the pressure is again on Sebastian Vettel.
The Ferrari driver has been widely criticized in Italian media this week for the error which cost a near certain victory at the German GP last weekend.
And with a 17-point deficit to Lewis Hamilton going into Sunday, there is little room for another slip.
“I don’t need pity. It was my fault,” he said of sliding off the wet Hockenheim track within sight of a home victory which eventually went to Hamilton.
“When everything goes well you are cheered, and if you make mistakes you are criticized. So I don’t care much about what people say. I have to be at peace with myself.”
Being at peace is needed in the tight title battle. Hamilton, of Mercedes, has already shown last year that he is able to capitalize on Vettel’s errors.
The previous campaign looked set to go to the wire with Vettel well positioned after winning Hungary but the German crashed from pole in Singapore to turn a likely title lead into a large deficit he never recovered.
That Singapore street circuit was crucial to Vettel’s hopes as it was recognised his Ferrari took slow, tight corners better than Hamilton’s Mercedes - something that still holds true and applies to the Hungaroring this weekend.
If Vettel beats Hamilton to cut the gap, it will be game on with nine races left. But if Hamilton can expand his lead to 20-plus points, he will be in pole position for a fifth title.
That is despite the advantage Mercedes have had in power during the hybrid era since 2014 looking to have been cancelled out.
“In the cold light of day, we also know and recognise that we did not bring the quickest car to Hockenheim,” Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said.
“Hungary will see another tough fight with both Ferrari and Red Bull. It’s a high down force track and on paper they should both be very fast in Budapest.
“However, if there’s one thing the German Grand Prix taught us, it’s the fact that predictions don’t determine race results. We will give it everything to go into the summer shutdown with as many points as possible.”
Mercedes are not without errors of their own this term, however, with Hamilton’s stunning fightback from 14th in Germany preventing a third successive race ending in defeat.
In Austria and Britain mechanical and tactical mistakes proved costly and Hamilton started so far down the grid because of hydraulic failure in qualifying.
Red Bull could also feature in the hunt alongside the big two with Daniel Ricciardo returning to the seen of his 2014 triumph.
“I like the Hungarian GP,” he said. “It’s fast, it’s normally really hot and even though it’s a tight track there’s still quite a lot of overtaking and always a bit going on.”