Opinion: Sebastian Vettel is facing his toughest period yet
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during a preview day for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

The major talking point from Silverstone was  Sebastian Vettel’s clash with Max Verstappen which added to his growing list of errors this season, leaving him 74-points off the championship leader.

On a weekend packed with intense wheel-to-wheel racing across the grid including another thrilling episode of the blockbuster series 'Verstappen vs Leclerc', Vettel was left red-faced once more after receiving a ten-second penalty for rear-ending the Red bull of the Dutchman.

Whilst Verstappen recovered to fifth place, Vettel limped home to 16th place acknowledging his error after the race.

“My mistake,” said a defeatist Vettel. “I thought the inside will open up, it didn’t open up. It looked for a second as if he was pulling for the middle of the track but then he stayed left, and I was too close and I couldn’t avoid the crash”.

Whilst immediately apologising to Verstappen after the race, last year’s title rival Lewis Hamilton was celebrating a record sixth home grand prix win and extended his championship lead to a staggering 39-points ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

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The turning point?

Throughout the 2018 season, the Ferrari driver was neck-and-neck with the Brit as they both battled for their respective fifth world drivers’ titles. So where did it all go wrong?

Germany 2018. Vettel had been cruising to victory at his home race attempting to extend his lead in the championship, as he looked to finally win a first drivers title with Ferrari.

As the rain began to pour, it was a lapse in concentration that saw Vettel lose control at the Sachs Kurve hairpin at Hockenheim, before tens of thousands of shocked home fans in the grandstands.

The four-time world champion swore in frustration, as Hamilton sailed into the lead of the race, and it proved a turning point in Vettel’s season and arguably his career to date.

Notable errors followed in Italy, Japan and the USA which ultimately cost him a realistic chance at winning it all.

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New season, familiar frailties

After heartache in 2018, the falloff competitively of the Ferrari in comparison with the Mercedes was evident. After a promising summer of pre-season testing, the Maranello outfit expected to be battling it out to challenge for both titles.

Although Mercedes had romped to eight straight victories at the start of the season, Ferrari could have seen at least one victory in that time, but misfortune and driver error have since cost them dearly.

Bahrain saw Charles Leclerc robbed of a deserved victory after an engine failure in the closing laps denied the Monegasque of his first win in Formula 1. Meanwhile, Vettel’s attempt for a podium place slipped away, spinning after getting too early on the power amidst pressure from Hamilton.

Vettel’s last race victory was at Spa, Belgium nearly 12-months ago. A staggering period of time for a driver with so much ability and presence in Formula 1

You can’t come much closer to ending a winning drought than Vettel came this season at Canada, where the German was on the wrong end of a controversial steward’s decision that sparked debate across the entirety of the motor-sporting world.

Another driver error? Maybe so. A harsh punishment? Most definitely.

After skidding across the grass, he re-joined the track just ahead of Hamilton but was deemed to have left too little space. What followed the race can only be described as theatre.

With Vettel refusing to park in his second-place spot, he stormed off momentarily to then begrudgingly agree to join in the regular podium procedures. Not before deciding to move the first-placed sign from in front of Hamilton’s Mercedes, to where his car would have been.

The drama predictably unravelled into a further debate about the future of the sport, of which Vettel has been central too since Canada. The 32-year-old’s stance on the matter is clear.

“Let us do what we want,” he said. After being asked if the direction of the sport would make him consider retirement he said, “Retire! At least I know I am not in trouble again. I’m joking I really don’t care.”

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What does the future hold?

In a recent interview with BBC Sport, he said he “doesn’t love the F1 world”, in which he referred to the politics and glamour of the sport, but added, “I love racing. I love working with the team. If we get into a flow of winning races succeeding, doing well, that is the ultimate thrill.”

His love for racing is undoubted, but is the passion for Formula 1 still there? You would be forgiven for thinking his fire is burning out after the difficult events of this season.

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