Analysis: Can Ferrari challenge Mercedes for the title?

Thu, 19 March 2015, 04:36

Mercedes Benz dominated the Australian GP as Lewis Hamilton’s silver arrow finished the race 34 seconds ahead of Sebastien Vettel’s Ferrari. It became apparent as early as free practice 1 that the Mercedes cars still had a significant advantage over its competitors, continuing from where they had left from in 2014.

This was confirmed in qualifying as Lewis posted a time about 1.4 seconds clear of the Felipe Massa’s Williams in third place and over 1.4 seconds clear of Vettel. Understandably this has lead to serious concerns for the sport: arguably we may already know who the constructor’s champions are after the first race and have a 50% chance of guessing the winning driver’s champion. Is it therefore all doom and gloom or do Mercedes have a potential title contender?

Looking back at those qualifying times, it was of interest that Vettel was one of two drivers in the top 10 to post a slower time in Q3 than Q2: the other was Valterri Bottas – who we all know was suffering from a lower back injury and eventually sat out the race itself. Presumably Vettel also had an issue in Q3, there could be a simple explanation for the deficit – such as setting his final time on scrubbed tyres for example. However, ultimately we can conclude that he had more pace which would put him comfortably in third place, ahead of Massa.

During the race Vettel kept Massa’s Williams within one second for 21 laps until the Brazilian eventually pitted. Vettel then came out in front of Massa after his pit stop, surprising the Head of Vehicle Performance at Williams, Rob Smedley:

“If you can follow one second behind, then it means you’ve got a little bit of pace in hand,” said Smedley.

“The unfortunate thing was he had more pace than what we thought… I think he found eight tenths over two laps compared to when he was sat behind Felipe,” he added.

This indicates that Vettel had a faster race pace than Massa, approximately 0.4 seconds faster a lap. With 21 laps spent behind Massa, arguably Vettel lost at least 8.4 seconds to the race leader during this time. Of course this does little to reduce the 34 second deficit, yet on the bright side we can presume that Vettel turned-down the engine after the first pit stop knowing that the Mercedes cars were out of reach.

The logic may be questionable, however recent murmurs by Ferrari’s team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, suggest there has been a boost of confidence in the Ferrari garage since the Australian GP. The newly appointed Ferrari boss has admitted that there has been a change of focus in the Ferrari camp and they are no longer targeting second best:

“Our first target was to look at Williams and Red Bull,” Arrivabene explained.

“Now we need to start to be a bit more convinced about ourselves and to reduce the gap with the Mercedes guys… We need to start to think and look forward to first.”

To come back to our question then, can Ferrari Challenge Mercedes for the 2015 World Championship? It would not be unrealistic to suppose that the prancing horse could challenge the German car manufacturer this year, after all we know that Ferrari have more tokens to spend on there power unit with a rumored upgrade due to be unleashed as soon as the Spanish GP. However I cannot help but think that it would be really too late for Ferrari to challenge Mercedes in 2015 but this does give both the tifosi and F1 fans in general a lot of hope for next year.

Maybe the 2015 season won’t be so boring after all…

Amir Hussain

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