Vettel’s F1 title hopes fading fast after early Japan retirement (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 championship hopes took another huge hit in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix after an engine issue forced him to retire from the race early.

Vettel led the drivers’ championship for Ferrari all the way up to the Italian Grand Prix at the end of September, when Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton moved three points ahead.

Vettel retired in Singapore and finished fourth in Malaysia, with Hamilton going P1 and P2 in those races to move 34 points clear heading into this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Ferrari was forced to change a spark plug on Vettel’s car on the grid after finding an issue, only for the German to report a lack of power soon after the race starting.

Vettel lost a place to Max Verstappen at the hairpin before slipping all the way back to sixth on the main straight, with yet more positions being lost after a brief safety car period.

Ferrari had no choice but to retire Vettel from the race, ending his hopes of cutting the gap to Hamilton, who currently leads the race for Mercedes.

Should Hamilton win at Suzuka, the Briton would be able to wrap up the F1 title in two weeks’ time at the United States Grand Prix if he won in Austin and Vettel finished sixth or lower.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.