Sunday, 16 september 2018, 13:02 , by Matthew Scott
Lewis Hamilton is going to win a fifth world title, while delivering some of his very best work behind the wheel. What a travesty then that, in actual fact, he needn't get so close to the limit time and time again as Ferrari continue to blunder their way through Sebastian Vettel's own bid for crown number five.
The Mercedes man delivered a flawless weekend at the Singapore Grand Prix, registering one of the very best of his 79 pole positions and then dominating a race that Vettel famously failed at 12 months previously.
His championship advantage is now 40 points. Realistically, he can win the title without taking another race win all season – if he finishes second in the remaining six grands prix, Vettel must win them all to pip him by two points.
Frankly, Ferrari have done little to suggest that they are capable of putting Vettel into the position to do so.
Qualifying was a poor start. While Hamilton bolted in a mesmeric lap record 1:36.015 – six tenths quicker than his title rival – Vettel was left with unsatisfactory out laps and a clear breakdown between team and driver in Q2 meant that a bold ultrasoft strategy was binned.
Tenth-quickest after a first run on the medium compound, Vettel claimed he had half a second still to gain. Had he done so, he would have snuck into Q3 - despite all other cars using hypersofts – and absolutely cruised to victory.
The races of Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz prove this, the Spaniards each gaining four places from their starting places to finish seventh and eighth while those ahead could not make hypersofts last.
Perhaps Vettel's frustration at his team essentially chickening out of a winning strategy preceded what came in the race – a reckless, short-sighted and costly play for the wrong tyres at the wrong time.
It was clear something was up when Ferrari radioed Vettel to say Hamilton had claimed he was struggling for tyres. He had, in fact, pointedly said he was NOT struggling for tyres.
Any thoughts of kidology were dismissed when Ferrari rushed Vettel into the pits to try and undercut the Mercedes man, who simply had to put his foot down and take a service the next lap.
To make matters worse, Vettel was deposited on track behind the Force India of Sergio Perez, costing him crucial lap time.
With Vettel needing to drive three-quarters race distance on unsuitable tyres, it was soon apparent that the German's race was over and it only got worse as Max Verstappen gained revenge for Vettel's opening-lap pass by overcutting the Ferrari and regaining net second place.
Race over. Title likely over. Vettel deserves better and Hamilton's mastery deserves better opposition to compare against.
All teams make mistakes – Mercedes apologised a bit too publicly after taking Hamilton out of contention in Austria – but Ferrari's are beginning to stack up to an embarrassing level…
SPAIN: Vettel pitted unnecessarily under VSC, costing him two places.
HUNGARY: Vettel's extended opening stint spoiled when allowed to hit traffic, denying him a crack at Hamilton.
GERMANY: Mid-race dithering holds Vettel up behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, adding unnecessary pressure before slide into gravel trap and DNF.
ITALY: Vettel tows Raikkonen to pole position, despite the team having just told the Finn he will not race for them net season.
At a conservative estimate, those four errors alone have cost Vettel 44 points and handed Hamilton a few too.
What must be pointed out is how Hamilton has been in position to capitalise on the gaffes from the men in red.
Spain was among this year's most complete weekend performances from any driver, his qualifying in the wet at Hungary was another reminder of Hamilton's mastery on slippery surfaces, Italy was a dogged performance aided by Valtteri Bottas' gracious 'wing man' play.
But the undoubted standouts are Germany and Singapore.
As rain sent those on the track and pit wall crazy at Hockenheim, Hamilton looked like he was driving on different asphalt – three seconds a lap quicker than anyone else as the floundering farcically saw all five tyre compounds in action at the same time.
Vettel was being informed of Hamilton's lap times right up until his lock-up at the Sachs Kurve ended in the gravel, and undoubtedly played a role in the home favourite's mistake.
In Singapore, it was the latest in a litany of Saturday spectaculars, Hamilton shaving three and a half seconds off Vettel's pole time of last year with the kind of fearlessly picture-perfect lap that has come to define him.
There is a growing sense that this may be Hamilton's greatest triumph yet if he can see it out. Hopefully Ferrari can offer him the setting he deserves in the closing weeks of the season.