With Lewis Hamilton having conclusively sealed the 2018 drivers’ title last time out in Mexico, his consistency race after race over the whole year of racing has received the largest praise, but we should not neglect one particular thing: this year’s title fight has largely involved the mental aspect of the sport. We can say it’s been a battle of mindset pretty much. And in such battle, providing the opponent with heavy blows at the right moment to affect his mentality was determinant.
Vettel and Ferrari had already squandered particular chances and points in Shanghai, Baku and Le Castellet, but the first hard knock, Hamilton dealt it in Germany.
Following hefty setbacks in Spielberg and at the home event of Silverstone, in a race that should have served as a golden chance for Vettel to boost his championship charge, given that Hamilton was due to start from 14th as a result of a hydraulic failure on Saturday, the Mercedes ace pulled off a legendary performance.
Blasting through the midfield in such a way that he had conquered 6th place by Lap 11, Hamilton was able to extract a humongous 42-lap stint on his starting Soft tyres to catch up with the race leaders, only to then smile on Vettel’s agony after the now well-known slip-up by the German on Lap 52. Vettel had put his foot just some inches wrong, but had lost on home ground in a kind of context he typically shone in (commanding from start to finish), his dismay immediately audible over the radio; Hamilton had performed a blinder and drown an absolute triumph out of a predicted setback.
As always, he turned all the talk on humbleness and team loyalty: Hamilton’s media management was arguably crucial in the total war he and Vettel fought this year, but that is a different matter, which we can deal with in the future.
After a tough return from the summer break in Belgium, there was no better way to bring trouble on a Ferrari driver than unexpectedly beating him head-to-head in front of the impressive crowd at the legendary Monza Grand Prix, and that is what Hamilton accomplished brilliantly this summer. It seemed the predicted Ferrari party thanks to the front-row lockout on Saturday, but it was at the time to finish it off that Vettel seemingly lost his temper seeing his teammate persist on the lead from qualifying to the start of the race, resulting in another well-known stumble (this time much clumsier than in Hockenheim) while Hamilton himself was attacking alongside.
It was the best of setbacks to inflict, simply because there was some ninety-thousand hearts in the so-called ‘Temple of Speed’, pumping for the first Ferrari win in eight years in arguably the most ‘Ferrari’ venue after Maranello, and Vettel himself, the main driver, threw a spanner in Ferrari’s works for the win, ruining his teammate’s strategy as well and thus allowing Hamilton a colossal victory.
A week off, then came the killing blow for Sebastian Vettel: the killing blow came in Singapore, specifically on Saturday, when Hamilton pulled off another of the year’s masterstrokes, a stellar pole lap in 1:36.0 enabling the Englishman to romp to victory the day after, in a place where Mercedes was expected to falter behind Red Bull and Ferrari, who should have made the most of a favourable track layout. Complicit in that were Ferrari’s botched setup and some pretty borderline designs realised by Mercedes on rear suspension and wheel-rims, which would end up under the spotlight only about a month later, but Hamilton’s masterclass was clearly a key factor.
Vettel’s challenge was all but drained after Singapore, and the following races would basically just see the German and his team trip (or maybe we should say ‘spin’) again and again until last time out, the time when Lewis Hamilton claimed once and for all his fifth Formula 1 World Championship title. And remembering such historical moment every once in a while, we should remember it was achieved not only through consistency, but also thanks to an accurate game of mindset aimed at destabilizing the opponent at just the perfect moment.