Ferrari and Mercedes both admitted they had work to do to challenge Red Bull for the title but they have no intention of giving up on the chase.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel took a commanding victory in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, taking the lead from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on the first lap and never looking back as he took his fifth win of the season and 31st of his career.
Three-time champion Vettel stretched his lead to 46 points over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who finished a strong second at Spa, with Hamilton, who completed the podium, a further 12 points adrift in third.
However, despite the manner of Vettel’s victory being quite convincing, Ferrari were pleased to have found the pace to be contending at the front while Mercedes were relieved that they didn’t have any tyre issues.
We’re approaching the part of the season where teams will be increasingly under pressure to switch more resources to their 2014 car because of the big regulation change which includes a new engine formula. But Ferrari and Mercedes don’t appear to be ready to give up just yet.
Double world champion Alonso, whose last victory came at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, believes there’s still hope for the title. “It is still open,” he said. “We just need to keep trying to improve our performance and try to turn it around. We recovered some of the optimism lost. It was a good weekend in terms of feeling and points.”
However the Spaniard added that Ferrari need to find more pace to match the Red Bulls: “In the race, once we were second we were 0.2-0.4secs slower every lap,” he added. “When you are the second fastest, you deserve to be second. We just need to congratulate Sebastian and Red Bull and get better for Monza.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was pleased with the team’s response to disappointing results in the German and Hungarian Grands Prix – but he added the team need to make “another step” forward in performance to put pressure on Red Bull.
“We had a very bad July for many reasons and I am very pleased to see that we are back on track but it is not enough,” said Domenicali. “If you want to make sure that we are able to arrive at the end we need to have another step with regards to the performance of the car and this is what I am seeking from my people.
“For us it’s important to get back on the trace of improving the car but for sure we have seen Red Bull has improved and we need to stay there because we can beat them by improving the car better than them and being there if there’s an opportunity that comes because they may have a problem. Don’t forget last year…”
Domenicali was referring to the fact Alonso was 39 points ahead of Vettel after last year’s Italian Grand Prix, but found himself behind the German just three races later.
The mood is similarly bullish at Mercedes where Hamilton thinks Vettel can be caught – but it’ll be “very tough” to achieve. “It’s a big, big gap,” said the 2008 world champion. “It’s a huge gap so it’s going to be very tough to close that but I’m going to keep pushing.
“It’s going to be very, very tough, undoubtedly. He [Sebastian] has just had a phenomenal car for a long, long time and it still is phenomenally quick and he does the job so it’s the perfect package.
“But we’ve had some really strong races and we’ve been there or thereabouts competing with him and we have finished ahead of him in the past so it doesn’t mean that we can’t do that in these next races. But it is getting closer and closer to the point where we really need to be finishing ahead every single time to close that gap.”
And while Hamilton, who finished third at Spa one place ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, is hopeful Mercedes can be in the mix at the next race in Italy, he is expecting to make a real step forward at the next race in Singapore.
“These two circuits [Spa and Monza], you get a downforce package and you’re kind of stuck with it. It either has or hasn’t worked. Then afterwards we’ll have the high-downforce package we had in the previous races but hopefully it should be improved again. So I’m hoping we’ll be more competitive from then on.”
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was pleased his two cars didn’t have any tyre issues at Spa, but he conceded that the team are probably around half a second off the pace.
“We’re not quite sure why we struggled so much on the first couple of laps as we were sitting ducks,” said Brawn. “But that’s probably where the car was and we’re half a second slower than we need to be.
“We didn’t have any tyre issues, which was great. On the last stint both drivers were able to push hard when they needed to and defend their position against Webber, so that was OK. We’re getting there but it’s a moving target and Red Bull are not sitting still.”