BUDAPEST, Hungary – Sebastian Vettel is putting thoughts of his Ferrari future on hold as he prepares to fight back against a resurgent Lewis Hamilton at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver trimmed Vettel’s championship lead from 20 points to just one after a brilliant win at the British GP two weeks ago. Vettel finished that race in seventh after a slow puncture late on deprived him of a seemingly certain podium finish.
Although Vettel’s contract runs out at the end of this year, he says he is focusing so hard on winning the Formula One title that talks are taking a back seat.
“What’s delaying it? The fact we are working hard, from the team’s point, my point,” Vettel said Thursday at a pre-race news conference. “For now the focus is extremely high on working on the car. A piece of paper can be signed fairly quickly, so that’s not a problem.”
Ferrari has intimated that the decision is in Vettel’s hands – and that all he has to do is say `Yes’ to a new deal.
“It’s true that I haven’t got a contract yet,” Vettel said. “But the primary objective is not to look at papers and worry about those, but to get some good results.”
Vettel did suggest that the month-long summer break, which follows this race, might be the time when a favorable decision is made.
“I don’t see why not,” he said when asked if he wants to continue with Ferrari, amid rumors he could replace Hamilton at Mercedes, with Hamilton potentially going the other way. The 2018 drivers’ market promises to be as hectic as it is uncertain now.
“I’m not in a rush, I don’t think the team is in a rush,” Vettel said. “I think I have a good contact with team, they would tell me otherwise.”
Ferrari has a double ambition this season: securing its first drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen won in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.
Since then, F1 has been dominated by Red Bull – where Vettel won four straight titles from 2010-13 – and, for the past three years, Mercedes.
Vettel’s three race wins this year have boosted Ferrari’s hopes of ending that drought, even though things went badly wrong at Silverstone.
“This year has been very good for most of the year. We are all focused and determined to get Ferrari back to where it belongs, that’s our mission,” Vettel said. “I had a lot of tough races in the past already. I’m not stressing too much. Looking back Silverstone wasn’t a great race for us, and things went well for Mercedes. But it’s been the other way around this season.”
Formula One tiremaker Pirelli concluded that Vettel’s shredded tire in Silverstone was caused by a slow puncture.
He was heading for third place until his front left tire suddenly blew apart two laps from the finish. Raikkonen, his Ferrari teammate, also experienced a similar tire failure one lap before Vettel in a remarkable finish, but then profited from Vettel’s mishap to take third place.
“It won’t be the last puncture of my life. You shouldn’t get distracted by any short-term results,” Vettel said. “There were some weaknesses, but it was a good weekend for us in terms of learning what we need to go forward. We’ll take action next time and avoid.”
It could be a good circuit for Vettel to get back on track.
He won the Hungarian GP in 2015, and the twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes.
Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco with Raikkonen finishing second, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.
“It’s been one of the most challenging seasons of my career, if not the most challenging,” Hamilton said. “I don’t ever give up, but 20 points still felt like a decent gap.”
Hamilton, who has won the Hungarian GP five times, needs one more pole position to match Michael Schumacher’s all-time record 68.
“I’m going to get that pole at some stage,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.