SAO PAOLO – Sebastian Vettel smashed the outright lap record with a demonstration of intent on Saturday as he topped the times in final practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Like Nico Rosberg, in 2015, the four-time champion German showed he is seeking to bounce back immediately after conceding the drivers’ title to Lewis Hamilton, who has never won after winning the championship with races remaining.
Three years ago, Hamilton clinched his third title in the United States and was then beaten by Rosberg in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi as the German laid the foundations for his championship win in 2016.
According to Ferrari engineer Jock Clear, who has worked closely with champions Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Rosberg, Vettel’s disappointment this season will intensify his motivation to succeed next year – starting now, as Ferrari bid to halt Mercedes march to a fifth straight constructors title.
"I think, from Seb’s point of view, it just gives him more strength to come back next year and say ‘this is unfinished business’," said Clear. "The fact is drivers of his calibre relish the pressure. Top athletes pit themselves against the best and the pressure is the pressure. It’s part of the job.
"I think, on the whole, he has come to this battle willing to take risks, willing to give it his all and we’re part of that. We’ve all done our part this year…"
Clear said he felt that Ferrari had done well to bounce back and win the United States Grand Prix in Texas, where Kimi Raikkonen triumphed.
"We’re still in the hunt for the constructors’ obviously and it’s going to be a tough battle here and hopefully in Abu Dhabi,” he said.
Ferrari must out-score Mercedes by 13 points in Brazil to keep the title battle alive and hope they can end this year in encouraging fashion before a reshuffle of their line-up next year will see Monegasque Charles Leclerc arrive as new team-mate for Vettel.
Clear is likely to be given a new role in nurturing and protecting Leclerc.
"I have a lot of experience with young drivers," he added. “And a lot of experience with experienced drivers as well -- so with Charles coming in, I will help in any way I can to make his life easier, to ease some of the pressure and to make sure that we get the best out of him and the team over the next few years.
"It's not all finalised, but at the moment, yes, I will certainly have a strong influence on his side of the garage and … certainly, I will be paying closer attention to him than maybe I would have done on either of the individuals we've had - either Kimi or Seb - up to now."
Clear said Ferrari had high hopes for Leclerc who has been widely tipped as a potential champion.
"We've known Charles for a while now,” he said.
"We've had a relationship with him over a few years, from his days in the academy, so he's not an unknown entity for us.
"We're not going into this completely blind and clearly, in his first year in F1, he's shown some great potential.
"He's had some great races so I think everybody is excited about the prospect.
"We have to be ready to give him the opportunity and support him in the right way and hopefully he'll go on to great things.AFP