SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel has said his Ferrari team have not lost their way despite Formula One title rival Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes outfit appearing to have gained an edge in recent races.
Ferrari have had what is widely regarded as the faster car for most of the season, yet Mercedes have started nine races from pole position to the Italian team’s six.
Hamilton has won eight times this season, and five of the last six, while Vettel – on five wins – opened the campaign strongly but has faded due in part to errors made by himself and the team.
Ferrari’s dip in performance has left four-times world champion Vettel 50 points behind Hamilton in the standings, but the German said the team were still making progress despite their disappointing recent results.
“I don’t think we lost direction,” said Vettel at a damp and drizzly Suzuka circuit in the build up to Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
“We made progress with our cars, the steps that we planned, the steps have been coming.”
With five races remaining, Hamilton does not need to register another victory this season to claim a fifth world title.
Hamilton won in Japan last year, while Vettel failed to finish, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo claiming second and third.
This time, Vettel will be hoping the Red Bulls can get back into the mix to his advantage.
The former champions showed impressive speed in Russia, despite engine penalties dropping the cars to the back of the grid, with Verstappen climbing up from 19th to the race lead until a late pit stop saw him finish a creditable fifth.
Although Suzuka is expected to again suit the Red Bulls, Mercedes have won the last four races in Japan, three courtesy of Hamilton, and will be favorites to extend that run.
Vettel, however, has a good record at Suzuka, where he has won four times and wrapped up his second title there in 2011.
Despite the odds being stacked against him in the championship, Vettel does not see Sunday’s race as a case of now or never.
“No, I think you attack every weekend,” said the German.
“Every weekend is different, the track is different, the circumstances are different.