Vettel puts Singapore crash behind him to focus on Malaysia

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany smiles during a press conference at Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, left, chats with Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany during a press conference at Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain take a look at his car at his garage ahead the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Phoon)

SEPANG, Malaysia — Sebastian Vettel is wasting no energy in his title fight with Lewis Hamilton.

After blowing pole position by causing a crash at the Singapore GP two weeks ago, the Ferrari driver threw away a golden chance to regain the championship lead from Lewis Hamilton.

It put him 28 points behind Hamilton with six races to go, starting with this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix. But speaking on Thursday, Vettel said he has already cast it from his mind.

"I'm not too fussed about the amount of points. It doesn't change anything for how we tackle the last races," Vettel said. "It's part of racing. Not much point looking at it over and over again, your energy is best spent looking forward."

Vettel said he "moved on" within two days of the incident. However, he does concede that the last two races in Italy — where he finished third — and Singapore were below par for a team of Ferrari's high standards.

"If you look at the last two races, we're not happy and we're not proud of them," said Vettel, who has won four times in Malaysia.

Mercedes has the upper hand and Vettel's margin for error is increasingly small. He can ill afford another blip in Malaysia, where the intense heat and stifling humidity make it one of Formula One's toughest races.

Singapore offered some respite, since it was a night race, but this one is raced in afternoon heat with 80 percent humidity. Cockpit temperatures reach around 50 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).

"It's like being in a sauna. We have all of our gear on and the car is hot as well," Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said. "The seat itself is warm, and then we're surrounded in the cockpit by the electrical boxes."

Drivers can expect to shed 5 percent of their body weight in fluid loss.

"Fatigue sets in," Bottas added. "It's more difficult to be consistent and, in the very worst cases, you can develop cramps or even problems with your vision."

The undulating 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) track — a mixture of long straights and quick, sweeping corners — is also one of the most challenging, and enjoyable, for drivers. Many are sad that the Sepang International circuit is hosting its final race.

"They are taking away the toughest, if not the toughest race of the season," Hamilton said. "It is sad to think this is our last race at Sepang."

Neither Vettel nor Hamilton have fond memories of last year, however, with both failing to finish the race as Red Bull clinched a 1-2 with Ricciardo holding off Max Verstappen.

Vettel could use a helping hand from Red Bull now.

Red Bull has been improving in recent weeks and looked strong in Singapore qualifying, placing both cars ahead of Hamilton and Bottas.

Ricciardo appears particularly strong, with his second-place finish in Singapore earning him a seventh podium position in the past 10 races. Without a troublesome gearbox, the Australian might even have challenged for the win.

On a track that suits Red Bull well, a similar grid position on Sunday would be ideal for Vettel — providing he can avoid crashing again.

That Vettel finds himself in a chess-like scenario is much of his own making, and he must still be waking up at night with cold sweats thinking of Singapore. He made a sloppy error of judgment heading into Turn 1, taking out his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen — both of whom could realistically have denied Hamilton a podium finish and crucial points.

Understandably, given that it has not won a driver's championship since Raikkonen's title in 2007, Ferrari was not impressed.

Although Vettel deserves huge credit for turning the Prancing Horse into a contender again, he owes them a big performance here, and Hamilton is bracing himself for a strong response.

"Greats generally bounce back, so I have to anticipate this weekend he'll bounce back," Hamilton said. "He's a four-time world champion."

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