Lewis Hamilton admits he has been surprised by the way Ferrari’s title challenge has faded after moving close to a fifth drivers’ championship with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
If Hamilton wins the next race at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, he will be world champion unless Vettel finishes second. The scenario has been set up because Vettel finished sixth at Suzuka after a collision with Max Verstappen, and Hamilton says he was expecting a much tougher challenge from Ferrari and Vettel heading into the summer break.
“You have to set your sights high and so naturally, as you come into the season, you set the goal high, set the target high,” Hamilton said. “When we got to midseason we got that win going into the break and then again, really pushing to make sure that we come back even stronger so again, set the bar high.
“That’s what we were hoping to achieve — it’s really not always the case that you achieve your target but I think we have through really great hard work from everyone.
“In terms of Sebastian’s performance, of course, I didn’t expect… Up until the mid-part of the season they were very strong and then we obviously got to Monza and then after that they were still quite strong. Singapore was when it really started to tail off. I definitely hadn’t anticipated that they would tail off as they have.”
The win at Suzuka has left Hamilton with a 67-point advantage over Vettel having been 17 clear just four races ago, and the defending champion suggested Ferrari has taken a step backward rather than Mercedes finding major gains over the past few rounds.
“Not only have they lost a lot of performance… just performances have not been coming in the same as they had before, as strong as they were before.
“I don’t really have an answer for that and it’s not something I’m really focused on. I’m sure Sebastian could tell you why. We’ve just been focusing on trying to do the best job we can and maximize the potential of our own ability, that’s all we can do.”
Even if Hamilton fails to win in the United States, he will still be world champion as long as he outscores Vettel by at least eight points.