Mercedes normally struggle at the steamy Marina Bay Circuit, but in 2017 Hamilton won from fifth on a rain-soaked grid after a first-lap shunt scuppered both Ferraris and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Ferrari and Vettel are still smarting after Hamilton won at Italy’s Monza 10 days ago, despite the Marinello team locking out the front row at their home grand prix.
Vettel’s first-lap spin after contact with Hamilton enabled the Englishman to extend his lead in the drivers’ standings to 30 points and the German vowed to bounce straight back in Singapore, where he has won a record four times.
“For sure it’s a disappointment right now,” Vettel said after the race. “But I am turning the page and focusing on Singapore – I like the place and I am happy to go there.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff warned this week that Ferrari and Red Bull would have the edge on Mercedes on the tight, twisting street circuit. But with rain forecast again this week, anything could happen.
“Singapore has features that we’ve struggled with in the past,” said Wolff.
“The short straights, the slow, tight corners and the bumpy surface all make the Marina Bay Street Circuit one of the trickiest for us.
“On paper, the track should favour the Ferraris, but the championship fight is so close that predictions are almost meaningless.”
Vettel said he was not worried about the gap to Hamilton growing to 30 points with seven races remaining, and is relishing the chance to pounce on one of his favourite tracks.
“I think we have the pace,” the four-time world champion said. “The points sound a lot, but actually it doesn’t take a long time to get them down.”
As Sebastian Vettel drove down the home straight at Monza to finish a disappointing fourth, there was no doubt that under his helmet the German knew he had blown another opportunity in the title race.
A touch of understeer on the opening lap saw the 31-year-old clip Lewis Hamilton and fall from second place to 18th. The stewards deemed neither he nor Hamilton was at fault for the collision and it effectively ended all hope of a Ferrari win in front of their home fans.
A late P4 finish thanks to Max Verstappen’s penalty would have given him a hint of respite, but the reality is 30 points now separates him from Hamilton in the title race, and it looks like time is running out for the four-time champion with just seven races remaining.
For all the talk of a two-horse challenge this year, Vettel’s consistency and ability to lose his composure in the heat of battle has cost him dearly.
It’s his fifth race error this season, which includes his grid penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Austria, his clash Max Verstappen in China, his lap one collision with Valtteri Bottas in France and his crash while leading the German GP in July.
With the gap widening in standings, Sunday’s result looks to be a decisive moment in the championship, especially with Ferrari failing to capitalise on the front-row advantage coming into race day.
Vettel and Hamilton are both chasing a fifth title to move level with Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio and go two behind Michael Schumacher.
Small errors are bound to happen for every driver, but the reality is the team and driver who makes least mistakes, and has the best strategy and best development on the engines, will prevail this season.
It’s clear Vettel has absolute faith in his car, with Ferrari upping the intensity, with pace, strong balance on the corners and a serious reliability in their engine. All this potential world championship winning car is missing is consistency from their maestro.
With seven races remaining, Vettel will not want a repeat of last year when he lost his firm grip on the crown, retiring in Singapore and Japan, and showing a lack of composure and confidence behind the wheel in Mexico.
In contrast, Hamilton would win five out of six races between Belgium and America to effectively seal his fourth world title. Now, after his triumph in Italy, the Briton looks in pole position to successfully defend his title, benefiting once again from Vettel’s blunders.
Sunday’s mistake will be frustrating when the Ferrari star reflects on the weekend’s race at his home Switzerland this week, but now he must move on, and redeem himself in Singapore in 11 days time.
His talent is unquestionable, but with the pressure firmly on, Vettel needs to step up and show why he is considered one of the greatest drivers of the era.
Teenager Norris, who turns 19 in November, will follow in the footsteps of compatriot Hamilton by joining McLaren as a rookie for the 2019 season.
“I think it’s nice to be compared to such a good driver. I have admired Lewis since I started watching Formula One because I know how a good a driver he is and I know how hard it is,” Norris said.
“And for him to have done as well as he has done is pretty impressive.
“Hopefully one day I can have as many championship wins as he has. But I think more of my focus is on next year rather than thinking what could happen.”
Current world champion Hamilton was aged 22 when he burst on to the scene for McLaren at the season-opening 2007 Australian Grand Prix.
Jenson Button was given his big break by Williams when he was just 20 at the turn of the century, but Norris will now eclipse them both when he takes to the grid in Melbourne on March 17.
His opportunity comes after he impressed in the McLaren car during recent practice sessions at the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix.
The current Formula Two driver has no concerns about making the step up at such a tender age.
“It doesn’t matter if I was older – 20, 21, 22, whatever – I think I would still do the same job,” he said.
“I’m trying to do as good a job as I can next year, try and get back to winning ways with the team and just see how it goes.
“I just see it as an opportunity. I think McLaren are at a point where they need to have new drivers and a fresh start to do well in the future.
“It feels good that they believe in me, I think that’s very important.
“The top category of racing, it’s a cruel world so we’ll see how it goes.”
Norris was signed by McLaren last year after impressing in the junior categories of motor racing. He then won the prestigious Formula Three championship with two rounds to spare before he was promoted to the role of reserve driver with the British team.
The 18-year-old was notified of his promotion by McLaren CEO Zak Brown in Monza at the weekend.
“It was slightly unexpected; obviously I was pushing for it and did everything I could to try and get it. But it came a bit more sudden that I thought,” he said.
“It literally went from leaving the track to Zak saying I was going to get the drive next year.
“It’s a really cool thing to think about and, of course, I was pretty happy with the news, just knowing that everything I worked for in the past 10, 11 years has finally paid off.”