Analysis: F1 season run-in shows Hamilton not in clear yet

Lewis Hamilton may have been handed an unexpected boost to his Formula 1 title ambitions with his Singapore GP win, but a closer look at the championship run-in shows he is not in the clear yet.

In fact, while a 28-point advantage over Sebastian Vettel may appear pretty comfortable considering how evenly matched he and his main rival have been, the nature of the tracks that see out the year suggests now is the time to ram home his advantage rather than sit back and play the long game.

The story of this year's campaign has been heavily influenced by the different design concepts of the Mercedes and Ferrari cars – which has allowed Hamilton and Vettel to be so dominant on different weekends.

The longer wheelbase Mercedes with brilliant aero efficiency and better power (especially in qualifying) has excelled at high-speed tracks with long sweeping corners – ensuring victories at venues like Silverstone and Monza

The Ferrari, on the other hand, is based around a shorter concept that is more nimble and is more able to accommodate greater downforce. This has put Vettel in a league of his own at the slower and tighter tracks like Monaco, Hungary and Singapore (prior to the first lap chaos).

Both sides understand the strengths and weaknesses of their cars and both are bracing themselves for the venues where they know their rival will have the edge.

How the tracks line up

Based on what we have seen so far – and barring either outfit from bringing new parts that are game-changing in terms of performance – the final races fall into two distinct phases.

The first phase is one that appears better for Mercedes. Malaysia, this weekend, with long straights and some sweeping high speed corners, should certainly be a happy hunting ground for the Silver Arrows.

The following race in Japan is going to be much closer, with sections of the track playing to the strengths of both cars. The following race in Austin should be better for Mercedes.

After Austin, however, there comes a run of tracks that will likely see the performance advantage swing back to Ferrari and Vettel.

Although Mexico looks from the track layout to be good for Mercedes – thanks to that very long straight – the bad news for the Brackley team is that it is actually a maximum downforce circuit.

The high altitude of Mexico City means the air is much thinner, so drag is not as much of a concern for teams as it would be as venues nearer sea level.

It means, in simple terms, teams can bolt on much downforce as they want, something Ferrari is better able to do than Mercedes.

The following race in Brazil also looks good for Ferrari, with the tight and twisty infield section perfect stomping ground for the SF70H.

The finale in Abu Dhabi could also play to Ferrari's hands too, despite the long straights. For the Yas Marina circuit is made up of the kind of short-sharp 90-degree corners that Ferrari have proved to be so good at coping with.

It means in theory there are two venues where Mercedes should hold the edge – Malaysia and Austin. There is one track where things will be really close – Suzuka. And then there are three where Ferrari look strong – Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

For Hamilton, the fact that Ferrari's best tracks come at the end shows that he cannot afford to totally squander the advantage he has right now. For heading in to the final three events level on points, or even behind, would make things an uphill struggle for him.

It is why time is of the essence to ram home the opportunity he and Mercedes have been given.

And let's not forget too that an added complication to the situation could be Red Bull, which has made big gains in recent weeks with its RB13.

The Milton Keynes-based outfit was in the hunt for victory in Singapore and there could be further opportunities for it to be in the mix with Ferrari and Mercedes – potentially getting between them to change the championship dynamics.

While Sepang's long straights are not ideal for Red Bull, there could be good chances in Japan, the United States and Brazil.

Reliability factor

While in pure pace terms the fight between Ferrari and Mercedes still looks evenly poised, the other element that cannot be discounted is reliability.

After all, Hamilton's big advantage at the head of the standings only opened up because Vettel suffered a nightmare in Singapore when he got involved in that start line crash.

It only takes one slip from Hamilton or Mercedes to allow Vettel the opportunity to wipe away the Singapore swing that went against him.

And Mercedes will be very mindful that it is the only one of the two teams to have suffered a mechanical failure so far this year, with Valtteri Bottas's engine failure in the Spanish Grand Prix.

Mercedes introduced its fourth and final power unit at the Belgian Grand Prix – meaning it will be managing mileage on it more carefully in the final races – while Ferrari is poised to unleash its latest specification in Sepang this weekend.

Last year's Malaysian GP proved decisive in the title battle – as Hamilton's engine failure while leading cost him the points that would have made the difference in the end.

Speaking after Singapore, Hamilton was adamant that he had to keep pushing just as hard now as he did before he had such a margin.

"Whatever it is with the approach that I have, there's no reason to change it," he said. "It's a perfect balance of being aggressive and cautious at the same time. So, the formula works at the moment, so I'll just continue with it. "

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Lewis Hamilton
Teams Mercedes
Article type Analysis