THERE was a moment on the grid shortly before the start of the Singapore Grand Prix when the TV cameras cut to the figure of Charles Leclerc making his final race preparations, a crowd of photographers snapping furiously around him.
A few seconds later Sebastian Vettel appeared on the screen but this time he was alone, head down and no media in sight.
Vettel’s 53rd career win and surprise record fifth victory in Singapore was not the way this race was supposed to go.
Leclerc’s stunning pole lap coupled with Ferrari’s surprise upturn in form surprised the F1 paddock and fans alike while elevating the reputation of the 21-year-old even further as he chased his third consecutive win.
But after emerging behind his team-mate following his pit stop, Leclerc’s race rapidly unravelled with Vettel handed a golden chance to snatch an unlikely victory.
It was a remarkable turn-around for the four-time world champion who has endured a public fire-storm from critics and fans alike, quick to write the German off following a string of high profile errors.
Media coverage in the lead-up to the race was dominated by Vettel’s recent poor form as pundits poured over the German’s mistakes, including last time round in Italy where he clashed with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll when rejoining the track following a spin.
Things were to get worse for the German in qualifying in Singapore. An excellent first run secured provisional pole position before the familiar mistakes re-emerged, a scruffy second run was aborted as Vettel watched his team-mate storm to pole, ruing another missed opportunity.
It says a lot about the mental resilience of an F1 driver and in particular Sebastian Vettel that under such fierce scrutiny he has been able to compartmentalise each of his disappointments and move forward untroubled.
Most ordinary people would have collapsed under such pressure but Vettel is a supreme competitor and athlete, possessing an unwavering confidence in his own abilities.
And so it proved to be as he stormed to a victory that had seemed out of reach on Saturday and offered a timely reminder to his team-mate he’s unwilling to hand over the Ferrari number one spot just yet.
Vettel will know that this was a race victory which owed itself to a huge slice of good fortune, the Ferrari strategists seemingly underestimating the power of the undercut.
This is unlikely to faze the German too much – he’s been in the sport long enough to know that sometimes it goes you way and other times not.
But he’ll also be under no illusion that the real work now begins to prove this wasn’t just a one off and he’s able to win exclusively on merit – rebuilding a reputation most have already judged to be beyond repair.