Opinion: Could Vettel have won the title in 2017 if not for the Singapore crash?
One of those 'what if' moments that defined a championship.
If if's or and's were pots and pans....yes, yes I know. Like some of you I'm sure, I always did wonder this scenario. Could Sebastian Vettel have really won the world championship in 2017 had he not got involved in that massive start-line crash at the Singapore Grand Prix? So today, I decided to find out. I took it upon myself to conduct an alternate reality and find out the answer, and what I did find was quite surprising. I know you can never fully predict a race or it's outcome but I tried my best with this one so take these calculations with a pinch of salt, and bear with me and I will explain.
We can all remember it, the tenth Formula 1 race held on the streets of Marina Bay in Singapore. To mark the occasion, Singapore's weather decided to throw in an added feature, and the first Singapore wet race took place. Vettel, three points behind title rival Lewis Hamilton found himself on pole position with his own Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen right next to him for the added support, while Hamilton was only fifth.
Mercedes back then had a habit of struggling on the famed street circuit, one year on the pace, next year nowhere. It was all becoming quite a trend. It was the perfect chance for Seb to make up some ground, second-placed Max Verstappen challenged for the lead off the line, forcing the German into an instant defence, squeezing Verstappen into a fast-starting Raikkonen which ultimately led to the accident that took Max, Kimi, McLaren's Fernando Alonso as well as Seb himself out. Hamilton however, drove around the first corner chaos into the lead and an eventual win, the start of Vettel's demise in 2017.
But, what if it didn't happen? What if all the cars got away and Vettel won? Or even came second? For this scenario, I've only changed the outcome of the Singapore Grand Prix and nothing else, so Vettel's engine issues in Malaysia and Japan, as well as Hamilton's ninth place in Mexico still stand. So, let's take a look.
The 'Alternate' Singapore Grand Prix
Let's say all the cars got off the line, and Vettel eventually ended up on the podium. We all know just how good Max Verstappen is in the rain, so we cannot factor him out for the victory. Hamilton would have only been a best of fourth, while taking Alonso's astonishing start off the line in to account would have put the McLaren up into the podium places, I believe it would have been a matter of time before those behind, for example Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo or Hamilton, would have relegated him down the order.
Hamilton eventually finishes fourth, being unable to match the top three, while possibly pushing Ricciardo down to fifth, considering Ricciardo did not have the pace to challenge Hamilton for the lead in the actual Grand Prix. This leaves a scenario where Vettel either leads by ten points leaving Singapore or by eight points for second. I believe, how the driver status stood at the time, Kimi would've been told to let Vettel pass or to stay behind the German, giving the Finn a best position of third.
Rest of the Season
Everything from here on in goes as it did in the season. Vettel suffers engine issues in Malaysia during qualifying but bounces back to fourth in the race, but suffers retirement in Japan. He claims second best to Hamilton in the US, and recovers to fourth in Mexico after colliding with the Mercedes driver during the first lap. Vettel then takes his final win of 2017 in Brazil before finishing the season with third in Abu Dhabi. His total points tally come out at 342 had he won at Singapore, just two points less at 340 had he taken second.
Hamilton? Same goes. He loses the victory to Verstappen in Malaysia, finishing ninth, but wins the next two races in Japan and the US. Damage after the collision with Vettel in Mexico sees a lowly ninth-place finish, while he finishes off the podium in fourth in Brazil. Abu Dhabi sees his teammate Valtteri Bottas triumph, where he finishes second. The end result with a fourth-place finish at Singapore is 348, edging Vettel by just six points to the championship title, or eight points had Vettel finished second.
Could've Vettel challenged all the way had he taken a podium in Singapore? (FIA.)
So, in theory, Hamilton would have still edged it to the title. Of course, had the Singapore Grand Prix gone off without a hitch for Vettel and Ferrari, there could've been a lot more of a push to do well at races like the USA and Abu Dhabi, while not colliding with Hamilton would've actually left the German in a worse position. It would've set up nicely for a final race showdown in Abu Dhabi between Seb and Lewis, but you have to agree Valtteri would have been made give up the win had it interfered with Hamilton's title plans.
So there we have it, the difference between the pair would have been a single digit. Failures and retirements are always a danger in F1, but it is intriguing to think had Vettel been in a closer fight, would Ferrari have pushed development or car performance more? Would Mercedes have felt the pressure and cracked? Who knows. Just goes to show, much like Vettel's crash at Germany in 2018, how one little error can shape the outcome of a whole championship.
What do you think after reading this so-called alternate scenario? Let us know in the comments below!