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Formula One: Hamilton stuck in Vettel slipstream

A thick fug of haze, the result of forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia, briefly threatened the action in Singapore this week. In the end the threat never materialised -- much like the challenge to Sebastian Vettel this season.

You don't need to peer through any haze to see how this championship is going to end. We all know the drill by now.

Vettel will more than likely plonk his Red Bull on pole this afternoon. He will then defy those who say the RB7 is best suited to high-speed turns by storming around the Marina Bay Circuit tomorrow and so claim his ninth win in 14 races.

Even if he doesn't, even if he crashes at the first corner, it hardly matters. With a 112-point lead, Vettel could probably sleep through the final six races and still emerge as champion.

Running out of new themes to explore, German tabloid 'Bild' this week ran a story on the length of his overworked index finger, the one he breaks out every time he wins.

Vettel's rivals can only watch on in envy. As they have been happy to admit this week, the combination of man and machine this season has proved far too strong.

"Massively consistent, massively well controlled. I take my hat off to him," said Lewis Hamilton.

If there is one man for whom such praise must stick in the craw, it is Hamilton. This was meant to be his era. Everyone told him so. The manner in which he exploded on to the scene in 2007, missing the title by a single point, was unprecedented.

The kid from the council estate in Stevenage was a freak, a phenomenon; breaking down social as well as sporting barriers. When Hamilton lifted the title the following year there were no superlatives left.

Someone mislaid the script. McLaren produced a dud in 2009 and while they regrouped, the rise and rise of Red Bull began.

Hamilton could only watch on helplessly as Vettel -- like Hamilton plucked in his early teens and groomed for stardom -- took his records. Youngest race winner, youngest world champion. Yet he has always backed himself to beat the young pretender to his throne.

Following Vettel's electric start to this year, he remarked rather sniffily that he would always consider Fernando Alonso his biggest rival; the Prost to his Senna. Until recently most fans would probably have agreed with him.

Yes, Vettel is quick, they said, but can he do it from further back on the grid? Can he do it when the pressure is on? Look what happened last year when Mark Webber got under his skin. He became flustered, petulant.

No one is saying that now. Vettel fought back brilliantly at the end of 2010 and has been close to faultless this term, blowing Webber away with Teutonic efficiency.

If question marks persist over his overtaking, it is only because he is always on pole. Webber was known as something of a shootout specialist before Vettel rode into the Red Bull corral.


Besides, when Vettel has been required to overtake this year -- around the outside of Alonso at 200mph in Monza for example -- he has done so.

"He is the most mature 24-year-old I have ever seen in motorsport," Jackie Stewart said yesterday before adding, tellingly: "The biggest enemy a driver has is emotion. Without naming names, there are some drivers who are crashing almost every weekend."

No prizes for guessing to whom he was referring. As Vettel's stock has risen this year, so Hamilton's has fallen.

The blistering pace is undeniable, but his default setting -- all-out aggression -- is increasingly viewed as an Achilles heel. Hamilton is getting more, rather than less reckless, say his detractors. His frustration too often gets the better of him.

How much of that is down to the car, pushing it beyond its limits in a desperate attempt to catch Vettel, and how much his mental state is open to debate.

Hamilton claimed this week that he can be patient when he needs to be, citing his cautious driving for over 20 laps behind Michael Schumacher at Monza two weeks ago. Yet for some that display was the anti-Hamilton.

It seems he is damned if he does; damned if he doesn't. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Singapore Grand Prix,

Live,tomorrow, Setanta/BBC 1, 12.55

Irish Independent