Former world champion Nico Rosberg believes Sebastian Vettel is struggling to enjoy life at Ferrari.
The four-time world champion heads into his home race at Hockenheim on Sunday already a staggering 100 points adrift of Lewis Hamilton in the standings.
It is approaching a year since Vettel, 32, last celebrated a win. His number one status at Ferrari is being challenged by young Charles Leclerc in the sister car. A fortnight ago at Silverstone, Vettel finished 16th after he crashed into the back of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the latest in a long line of mistakes.
Ferrari’s form in pre-season testing suggested Vettel would have the machinery to end the Italian team’s 12-year championship drought. But so concerning is the German’s form that there are question marks as to whether he will even see out his Scuderia contract which expires at the end of next season, jumping before he is pushed.
“Sebastian is having a rough season,” Rosberg told PA. “You start the year expecting to be the world champion and when things go wrong it is really tough.
“Being a Ferrari driver is the ultimate pressure. You have the whole of Italy on your back. It must be difficult to enjoy.
“F1 affects your mum, dad, and wife. That is why it is so intense. The suffering and the joy goes all the way to your home, and it never stops.
“Now, there is huge pressure from Leclerc, too, a young guy who is driving so well. Verstappen is in front of both Ferrari drivers in the championship. Can you believe that? S***.
“We know that Seb is one of the best out there if he drives the way he can. I hope he finds his way because that is what he needs right now.”
There is little evidence, however, to suggest Vettel is set to turn a corner.
It was here a year ago, where Vettel, on course to win his home race and extend his championship lead over Hamilton to 20 points, skidded off the track and into the gravel. Hamilton won the race to land a 17-point cushion over his rival. Vettel has not returned to the summit of the standings since.
Indeed, in the ensuing 12 months since his Hockenheim horror show, the German has scored an eye-watering 170 points fewer than Hamilton, 36 fewer than Valtteri Bottas and eight short of Max Verstappen’s tally – the Dutchman racing for the inferior Red Bull team.
His collision with Verstappen took his error count to seven in 21 appearances. Following his crash here, he spun in Monza, Japan and the US last year and in Bahrain at the start of this season, too. He then fell off the road while leading in Montreal.
Three of those errors came while in wheel-to-wheel combat with Hamilton. Has the British star, on course to beat his rival to a third successive title, got under Vettel’s skin?
“You need to be careful of trying to pinpoint it to one single factor,” said Hamilton’s team boss Toto Wolff.
“Undoubtedly, Lewis has a great ability and talent, but I know Sebastian, and his record speaks for him. He has won four championships and that doesn’t come from nowhere. I have no reason to believe that he will not recover.”
Vettel, whose father Norbert is supporting him this weekend, will take some comfort from being fastest in first practice. Leclerc led the way in the afternoon running with Hamilton third.
“I always put myself under pressure so I can’t be happy if things go wrong,” said Vettel.
“The pressure I put on myself is bigger than any external factors. It doesn’t feel like a burden driving for Ferrari. It is a privilege. My mission is to get back to winning ways.”
Hamilton, 39 points clear in the race for the championship, is bidding to eclipse Michael Schumacher by winning the German race for a record fifth time.
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Four-time F1 world champion Alain Prost isn’t worried about the prospect of being surpassed by Lewis Hamilton for number of British Grand Prix victories on Sunday.
The pair are tied on five wins apiece at Silverstone alongside Jim Clark but the Frenchman said he wasn’t worried about losing his outright race win record to the Mercedes driver.
Prost said: “I had a lot of records 20 years ago so I lost almost a lot of records so I can’t change anything and I know that Lewis (Hamilton) is going to be very, very motivated to be champion again in England you know in his country. So he has a good chance to win tomorrow.”
Lewis Hamilton was denied pole position for the British Grand Prix by just six thousandths of a second.
Valtteri Bottas will start from the front at Silverstone despite Hamilton’s last-gasp effort to usurp his Mercedes team-mate.
Mercedes locked out the front row for Sunday’s race with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third ahead of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen. Pierre Gasly starts fifth with Sebastian Vettel a disappointing sixth.
Hamilton was bidding to secure his fifth consecutive pole at the Northamptonshire circuit, but the world champion made a critical error on his first run in the shootout for pole.
The Briton wobbled through Brooklands, temporarily losing control of his Mercedes, to leave him well behind Bottas ahead of the final runs.
Hamilton attempted to make amends for his error, but despite improving on his time it would prove no match for the Finn – Bottas ending Hamilton’s streak of four poles.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said Hamilton, 34, in front of a flat British crowd. “We worked hard but it got away from us.
“I had that mistake on the first lap and the second one wasn’t that great.
“Tomorrow is a long race, but we have got a great crowd here so hopefully I can do something.
“It is the best grand prix of the whole year. Without people like this to fill it up, and bring energy it would be nothing, so that is why we have got the best fans in England.”
Bottas added: “It feels good. It has been close all weekend with Lewis and it was great to get in a good lap and get pole.
“I knew that the first lap was good but it was not perfect. I should have improved in the second run. It is easy to make mistakes so I am happy to be on top.”
Leclerc ran the Mercedes drivers close, finishing one tenth shy of Bottas at an overcast and blustery Silverstone, but his Ferrari team-mate Vettel has struggled here.
The German, already 76 points behind Hamilton in the championship, was seven tenths off the pace.
British teenager Lando Norris will line up from eighth in his maiden home event following another encouraging weekend. His McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz qualified 13th, three tenths off Norris.
George Russell meanwhile, retained his immaculate record against Robert Kubica, finishing half-a-second clear of his Williams team-mate, albeit 19th of the 20 runners.
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