Things looked great for Sebastian Vettel at this point last year. He led the championship by 8 points heading to his home race at Hockenheim. After comfortably taking pole and with Hamilton down in 14th following a problem in Q1, he looked set to extend his lead handsomely.
Sadly, for the German, a tiny error in damp conditions on lap 52 whilst leading the race saw him end up in the gravel and out of the race. Hamilton went on to steal the win and deliver a hammer blow to Vettel and Ferrari.
Raikkonen and Vettel locked out the front row for Ferrari in qualifying at Monza, the German looked set to take more points out of Hamilton following a dominant win at Spa. However, it all went wrong on the opening lap.
Small contact with Hamilton at the second chicane sent him into a spin and he dropped to the tail of the field. It would be harsh to criticise him heavily for this one, but tucking in behind the Brit may have been the better option.
A brilliant recovery drive to 4th was no consolation as Hamilton went on to take victory.
An error on his one qualifying lap in dry conditions during Q3 left Vettel down in P9 on the grid. Nonetheless, a great start resulted in him being P4 at the end of the opening lap.
Soon, it all went wrong again, though. A rather desperate attempt at overtaking Verstappen in the first part of Spoon on lap 8 went badly wrong. The pair made fairly heavy contact and Vettel went for a spin. Instead of a possible P3, he finished a lowly 6th. Once again, Hamilton took the victory.
A 3-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement in free practice meant Vettel started P5 on the grid. With Raikkonen jumping Hamilton at the start, it gave the German an opportunity to get in the mix with the Mercedes’, provided he cleared Ricciardo cleanly. That didn’t happen, however.
He breezed by the Australian on the long straight before T12 – but a twitch under braking allowed Ricciardo to come back at him and they were side-by-side heading into T13. Vettel picked up understeer in the corner, touched wheels with the Red Bull, and spun. For the third time in five races, he found himself having to charge back through the field.
The German managed to recover to P4, but he threw away a wonderful chance of winning the race.
Outpaced by Leclerc in qualifying and the race, Vettel’s race was very much against Lewis Hamilton as they battled for 2nd place. The British driver managed to pass his German rival heading into T4 on lap 38.
Bizarrely, Vettel dropped it on the exit of the corner and spun, heavily damaging his tyres. He lost his front wing on his way back to the pits for good measure. Instead of picking up the pieces from his team-mate's problems late in the race and battling for victory with Hamilton, Vettel finished a terribly disappointing P5.
The race in Montreal was comfortably the most controversial mistake he’s made in the last 12 months. It almost doesn’t need explaining.
Leading the race with the faster Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton putting lots of pressure on, Vettel had an off-road excursion on to the grass at T3 on lap 48. When he rejoined the circuit, Hamilton was forced to get on the brakes to avoid a collision.
Vettel got hit with a 5-second penalty and it cost the German victory. As harsh as the time penalty seemed to be, a small but costly error put him in that precarious position in the first place.
His worst error over the last year came at Silverstone. Running 3rd and fighting for a podium with Max Verstappen, he clouted into the rear of the Dutchman’s Red Bull on lap 37 in the braking zone at Vale. Verstappen had covered the inside and there was no gap, but Vettel still tried to have look.
It was a very poor mistake and eerily similar to some of the accidents he got involved in during his early days at Red Bull Racing in 2009 and 2010. His wheel-to-wheel driving is very much under scrutiny once again.
Can he turn things around?
There have been quite a number of unfounded rumours that Vettel could retire at the end of the season. The German rubbished them last month.
"I never said anything like it, so I don't know where they come from.
I think I can stop whenever I want, and the team can probably kick me out whenever they want, but I'm very happy with the team and I hope the team is happy with myself.
I'm very hungry and I have a mission here to win. That's really the only thing that matters to me, winning with Ferrari, and that's what I'm working for.
Currently we're not winning, you can do the maths, so we still have something to do," said the four-time World Champion.
So, retirement is out of the question... for now. Nonetheless, the German needs a big mind reset – and to find his dependable form from pre-Germany 2018 as well.
Is Vettel still very quick? Absolutely. He’s definitely in the top 5 on pace in both qualifying and race trim, at the very least.
He leads team-mate Charles Leclerc 6-4 in the qualifying head-to-head and sits three points in front of the youngster in the Drivers’ Championship. Car problems in qualifying in France and Austria have certainly cost him some extra points, too.
What’s also clear is that Mattia Binotto trusts him and sees him as the teams lead driver. However, Vettel needs to eradicate the errors he’s been making for a year to maintain the trust of his team principal.
The second half of the 2019 season will be massive for Sebastian Vettel. Can he rediscover those consistent, exceptional performances he’s delivered in the past? We’ll get a clear answer when the chequered flag falls on the 2019 season in December.