Sebastian Vettel’s fading title hopes were dealt an almost fatal blow when the German retired from the Japanese Grand Prix with an engine issue on Sunday as his Ferrari suffered a major misfortune for a third race in a row.
Vettel, already 34 points behind Formula One championship-leading Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton going into the race, had started alongside the Briton on the front row at Suzuka Circuit.
However, there was a hint of the problems to come before the lights went out when mechanics changed a spark plug on Vettel’s car in the minutes before the race.
The 30-year-old plummeted down the order shortly after the start, clearly lacking power. He was called in by Ferrari to retire the car on the fourth of a scheduled 53 laps.
Vettel had arguably the fastest car in the previous two grands prix in Singapore and Malaysia but a first-lap crash and engine issue during qualifying left him with just a fourth-place finish from the latter as Hamilton extended his lead.
Hamilton currently leads with seven laps completed. If he wins, he will extend his advantage to 59 points with a maximum 100 points up for grabs from the final four races.