Flash in the pan? Or Does Vettel victory signal a Ferrari title challenge?
Scuderia Ferrari
Posted By: Justin Hynes  |  30 Mar 2015   |  10:48 am GMT  |  270 comments

On the face of it, Sebastian Vettel’s superbly worked Malaysian Grand Prix victory brought back to life a Formula One championship most had viewed as a two-horse race between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Given the nature of the win – branded by Vettel himself as “fair and square” – the result has fuelled a belief in some quarters that the Prancing Horse is back to its best and this result will be repeated.

So was Vettel’s win a true statement of intent or a flash in the pan at a circuit where conditions conspired to put the Scuderia in a zone where it could take on dominant Mercedes and exploit the team’s heat and tyre specific weaknesses?

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 02.51.58

The improvement Ferrari has made over the winter is undeniable and the extent of the step forward the team has made in both chassis and power unit was flagged up on race day in Melbourne, with Ferrari’s long run pace clear for all to see and close to Mercedes.

However in Melbourne they didn’t show the ability to run longer race stints on the tyres. In Sepang they did and this is the key to the duel this season.

In Thursday’s Drivers press conference in Sepang, Nico Rosberg alluded to the threat, having signed off in Australia by hoping to see Ferrari challenge Mercedes soon “for the good of the show”.

Based on the Australian Grand Prix result, the German was asked whether Mercedes had widened the gap to their rivals by double that seen last year. Rosberg was quick to point to Ferrari’s race pace in Melbourne as evidence to the contrary.

“[Our] qualifying pace was very strong, yes, but more important is the race pace,” he said. “Especially from Kimi we saw an extremely strong stint, so not really fair to say that I would say. I think Ferrari especially have definitely closed the gap and are closer than our nearest rival was last year.”

The strength of that race pace was shown again on Friday afternoon in Sepang, where in extremely hot conditions, Ferrari looked a match for the Mercedes on long-run pace. Just as importantly, the Ferrari was also kind to its tyres, so could run longer stints, a trait that would come to the fore in the race, as Technical Director James Allison explained after the race.

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“Our tyres worked very well on Friday,” he said. “This gave us the confidence to know we could go deep into the race and we didn’t have to make that early stop.”

One stop fewer for Ferrari

Allison presided over Lotus in 2012 and 2013 when its trait was also to be able to do one less stint than its rivals and this brought race wins and many podiums.

Contrast that with the comments of Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe after the race, which revealed the champions’ uncertainty over how to work tyre strategy.

“Coming into the race, there were two main choices to be made: whether to make two or three stops, and whether the prime or the option would be the better race tyre,” he said. “It was clear [on Saturday] that opinion was divided on that question, as we saw the leading teams using different tyre compounds in Q1. We saved new prime tyres for the race, while others saved new options. We planned a three-stop strategy favouring the prime tyre and, although the safety car came out early, it was late enough to be used as the first of our three stops.”

What Mercedes had not legislated for was Ferrari’s decision – based on the team’s belief that it could “go deeper into the race” on the medium tyres – to keep Vettel out when the safety car appeared following the incident in which Marcus Ericsson beached his Sauber at turn one. Ferrari knew the Safety Car meant a two stop was workable. It was impossible for Mercedes.

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When the safety car left the track on lap six Vettel had carved out a solid advantage over Hamilton and by the time the champion had cleared others who had stayed out – Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg – Vettel’s lead was a healthy 10 seconds. Rosberg was even more disadvantaged. After queueing up behind Hamilton in the safety car stop, he was forced to wait it out in his pit box due to traffic in the pit lane and lost track positions and valuable time he could not recover later on.

The gap established by Vettel after the Safety car of around 9/10 seconds remained the gap at the flag, so essentially the two drivers covered the race from Lap 10 to the flag at the same pace, both having two stops to make. But his second stint on mediums of 20 laps was the one to pay attention to. It was a clear signal that Ferrari can compete at races where there is a decision to be made between two strategies. When it’s a race where everyone does the same strategy, then Mercedes with its still superior car pace, will win.

Hamilton made up lost ground after taking on medium tyres on lap 24  – closing in on Vettel by upwards of 1.5s per lap at one stage – but he could only get 12 laps out of them before they fell apart, in contrast to Vettel’s 20-lap stint. This decided the race, as we will see in tomorrow’s UBS Race Strategy Report.

When both took on hard tyres for their final stint the race for Mercedes was lost. Hamilton questioned the use of the prime for that final stint, saying “these are the wrong tyres” but with only well used mediums as an alternative and with 18 laps remaining there was little else to be done. The Mercedes pit wall insisted that the strategy model showed Hamilton would catch the leading Ferrari with five laps to go but it never happened, because the car and tyres package was not performing as expected in the heat. Vettel’s pace on the prime was strong and he comfortably controlled the gap at around 10s, eventually taking the flag with 8.5s in hand.

“The advantage [staying out] gave to Ferrari on their two-stop strategy, and the time we lost in traffic in the first laps after the Safety Car, left us with a gap to Sebastian that proved too much of a challenge for us to recover – especially considering that we did not have an underlying pace advantage to Ferrari, who were very competitive this weekend,” said Lowe.

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So was the win a function of conditions that allowed Ferrari to work a strategic advantage on the day or a signal that this is the shape of things to come over the coming races?

For Kimi Raikkonen it’s a bit of both.

“I think it might be the conditions,” he said after recovering from a first-lap puncture to take an excellent fourth place. “It was very hot and that’s good for us, but I think even in Melbourne if we could have got behind them [Mercedes] at the beginning I don’t think they would have pulled away a lot.

“We know that we are not exactly as fast as them over one lap, but we are working on that. But comparing where we finished last year and where we are this year it’s a big step.

“It’s hard to say where we’re going to be exactly at the next circuit because every circuit is different but it’s a good base.”

Hamilton, meanwhile, admitted to uncharacteristic deficiencies with his Mercedes that hampered his ability to challenge in the race.

“I was struggling with the balance today and never really felt comfortable with the car,” he said. “There was so much understeer that tyre management was really hard. When I went to the option it was much better, so I thought we’d use it again at the end and was surprised we went with the prime. But I made the best I could with it and ultimately I’m sure the team made the call for the right reasons.

“They [Ferrari] were as fast if not faster than us today and once I had that gap to make up it was just a step too far. I’m now looking forward to the next race and fighting to get back to the front again.”

Toto Wolff admitted, however, that he feels Ferrari are now a major threat.

“We’ve got a massive battle out there. It is a wake-up call for us,” he told the BBC. “We’ve not made any mistakes for 20 races or more. Many things in hindsight we could have optimised. It doesn’t matter now, it’s a wake-up call for us. Well done to Ferrari. We saw on Friday they were very fast in the long runs.”

The Conspiracy theory

The result does Mercedes no real harm; they still lead both Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships and it has taken the heat off calls to “level the playing field” by taking away some of Mercedes’ technical advantages. There are many who feel that Mercedes has performance in its pocket, especially on the Power unit side and that they are “managing” the situation.

Technical chief Paddy Lowe has strong memories of being at McLaren in 1998 when they were too strong at the start of the season and got pegged back by snap regulations. Red Bull suffered from that with various bans on Exhaust blown diffusers. Last year Mercedes started strongly and the FRIC suspension was banned…

However those who thing Mercedes deliberately lost yesterday fail to consider the commercial dynamic; the Malaysian GP was title sponsored by Petronas, also the team’s title sponsor and the PR and marketing value of victory would have been huge to them.

Those who know what to look for could see Ferrari being close on race pace in the conditions and thus able to challenge, but the circumstances around the Safety Car, particularly the number of cars who stayed out and held back Hamilton after his early stop, swung it Ferrari’s way.

As for race winner Vettel, he too alluded to the conditions as being a major factor and suggested the form book might return to type in two weeks’ time in Shanghai.

“[Mercedes] probably struggled a little bit more with the heat today than they expected,” he said. “Equally, I think we didn’t struggle with the heat as much as we probably expected, so both things put together made us very competitive today and able to beat them fair and square.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 03.59.18

 

“For the next race, I think again, a completely different type of track China is a unique track is many ways, supposed to be a lot cooler. I think Mercedes were struggling with the hot conditions at this stage of the season, so we expect them to be very very strong, and they are the ones that usually set the pace. Today we could capitalise on their weakness a little bit and for the next race, we just try to race as hard as we can and see where it takes us.”

The question, then, remains an open one. Will Ferrari’s challenge be blunted somewhat in the cooler climes usually seen in China and at the European races or has the progress made with the SF15.-T finally given the team a car flexible enough to deal with whatever a race weekend throws at it? On Sunday Vettel alluded to the latter being the case.

“We had a very good feeling since the first test,” he said. “We were happy with how the car feels and we were able to build onto that. I’m very happy with how the car feels, with the balance. It allows me to play and to work which I think is always crucial as a driver.”

However Ferrari has a very good platform to build from, they have an aggressive development plan on the chassis and Power unit side and they have 10 tokens to use on the engine, which means that they can make significant gains. It’s important to note that the agreement around the fifth power unit for each driver is that this will NOT be subject to tokens, it is primarily to ensure that cars go out on track rather than save the engine in practice sessions.

Are Ferrari capable of challenging for the title? Is this the first sign of a new era for Ferrari? We’d love to get your thoughts below. 

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1
Kristiane Cyrus

Ferrari needs to sign Dan Ric for next year.

2
kenneth chapman

some time ago i read an in depth interview with paddy lowe where he was asked just how mercedes managed to dominate in 2014 so thoroughly. what he said was quite telling. he said that so many people suspected that this ‘split turbo’ was the main reason for the mercs superior performance but he quickly dispelled that by saying that ‘they’ only said this because it was able to be seen.

he then commented that there were so many factors under the skin that were equally, if not more important, than the turbo. he finally said that the single most important thing that enabled them to dominate was….. surprise surprise, managing the tyres.

moving right along to 2015………….

3

out of two races ferrari and mercedes won one a piece. that tells me that they are evenly matched. ie their performance is as strong as each other. merceds had been fooled by ferrari to think that they, mercedes, had a performance advantage. some call it the element of surprise, which iis often used to good effect in sport. i enjoyed watching ferrari winand look forward to seeing both ferraris fighting the mercedes cars up front. more surprises please……

4

Well the ferrari [mod] though it will take years for them to close the gap or even they will never make it.
Sure….
those who have followed f1 long enough knows that Ferrari can be pretty bad for one season and then be competitive the year after.
No mentioning those late 90s Schumacher yeras that they were starting with more than 5th deficit to mclaren or Williams and then taking the champioship to the wire.
it will happens again.

5

i don’t think Ferrari will be in running for either championships this year but if they run near the front and give merc a tough time and occasionally challenge for GP wins. No complaints from me. Can only be good for the sport.

6

My comment was under moderation and has now disappeared? What happened?

7

Was it derogatory? Maybe it contained a banned word?

8

Sorry, it appears now correctly.

By derogatory I meant comments as in 2013, when people, besides making it a safety issues, went on saying that those were shameful tyres

9

James,

I see 2 hot political/regs areas at the moment:

1) Fuel Flow sensor(s)

A number of technical observers have suggested that this area has been critical to Merc successes, with typically clever Brawnesque solutions adopted at Brackley. A change is due by China, so two questions: do you expect this to impact Mercedes? Or, as some conspirationists like to think, has this already affected Merc in Sepang ( Conspiracy being that Merc has anticipated the change to avoid glaring change in performance at same time of new measurement introduction and related PR mess)?

2) Pirelli lobbying

Red Bull rode the tyre de-lamination saga in 2013 masterfully and engineered a change that won them the Championship. This year nothing of the sort is at stake, but its clear that tyre choice for each GP will play a BIG role, with Ferrari pushing for softer choices and Merc for harder ones. Who do you think will be more effective? And what would the weapon be? It can not be safety as in 2013, but I imagine Ferrari can use entertainment as a card. On other hand, Merc can start a derogatory campaign on Pirelli tyres and we know how sensitive Pirelli is to their product looking like the joke of the paddock. What’s your view?

10

very interesting questions indeed !

11

Well, here’s hoping to a record summer heatwave in Europe.

12

Germany was a scorcher last year (gone now), and Hungary is usually pretty hot. Spain in early May might be too soon, and then I don’t think it’s likely that AUT or GBR will be hot. Perhaps CAN could be, then for sure SIN. BRA I guess is possible too.

13

James, next time you run into Kimi please could you warn him discreetly about his current Ferrari team mate.

Seb is a new and unseen as yet version of “determined”, more so than even Schumacher I would say. And more political than even Alonso. Alonso’s politicking only made him enemies, but this chap is EFFECTIVE. And he presents a winning cherubic smile that hides the Machiavelli. You are probably aware of all this from your contact with him.

He has negotiated one hell of a contract with Ferrari. He has even imported his German PR lady from RB, and she now controls all his media contacts. So he is in charge of the message going out, not Ferrari.

He may not be as fast as Kimi, nor as delicately precise in his steering, but he is not far off, and crucially, is the least error prone of all the drivers. He is a more formidable opponent than Alonso.

Kimi will have to fight him tooth and nail, and give no quarter. Never mind the talk of friends. No driver can be your friend and esp not if you both drive for this team.

On his way to Spa this year I suggest Kimi stop for a moment in the main square in Brussells and take a look at the famous pissing cherub in the fountain. It bears an uncanny facial resemblance to his friend.

14

Vettel is certainly working as hard in the team as Michael did and beyond that he’s working harder than Michael did to be liked and even loved by the Tifosi

It’s one thing to speak Italian on radio after the chequered flag, but quite another to start the foreign language section of the TV unilaterals speaking Italian, when he is supposed to answer in his own language.

15

James,

Allison was on Sky Italia the other day speaking fluent Italian. I’m not aware that Kimi is familiar with the lingua bella :), mabe it’s time he learnt.

16

Ferrari most likely will be fast enough to challenge every single GP. From what I recall Alonso is the one who brought over to Ferrari Mr. Fry in place of hoisted seniori Costa at the excuse of being too conservative. Well Mercedes AMG f1 was pretty conservativa last year, made by the conservative designer Costa. Sadly Fry din’t make it, on top of that he took out with him Nikolas aerodynamist and Marmorini mechanic. Mind you Resta was Tompazis protégé while Binnoto Marmorini’s protégé. These two protégé are the ones directing aero and engine rebirths but without their teachers. As such I can’t imagine the problems been the teachers but the previous general director. I guess Alison is the one who is saving scuderia. Unfair for Marmorini to take engine blame and heat, when everyone knows what he was asked for, plus his engine found to be very solid at the end of the day, and reliable too. Alonso made a mistake by giving up the idea of the 3rd. In turn he gave a chance of becoming the richest around the circus. Dominicaly was a very good person. Matiachi will stay a question mark. Arrivabene is a hybrid specchiatura and black pullover tear. LDM would be missed by some, and many. Marchione would be the new black around F1.

17

“Technical chief Paddy Lowe has strong memories of being at McLaren in 1998 when they were too strong at the start of the season and got pegged back by snap regulations. “

Anyone know what these were? Bit before my time.

18

If the season goes as the boss Maurizio Arrivabene wanted as the minimum, one more win. Then let it be Monza, please.

19

Not a Seb fan, however the way that he managed his tyres was incredible.

Last year he was always struggling with his tyres.

Good to see a Ferrari win a win. A competitive Ferrari means a more healthy F1

20

I have never seen bosses of the loosing team so happy after a defeat, Toto and Niki were almost relieved after the race !

21

Congratulations to Ferrari, but did anyone notice that none of the previous management or ousted technical leadership got any credit for the great result?

Given the length of the development cycle, this car has nothing to do with Arrivabene, but something to do with Pat Fry, Nikolas Tombazis and the previous management team.

Compare and contrast with Mercedes and Toto Wolf’s recognition of Ross Brawn’s contribution to winning the constructor’s championship:

“This is his trophy, too. He laid down the basis of the team. Some of the decisions that were taken many years ago proved to be the right ones today.”

In the words of Ron Burgundy, “keep it classy Ferrari”….

22

It would indeed be interesting to know who did what on the SF15T. But don’t forget that it was Sergio Marchionne who pushed the alarm button at the end of october after the first windtunnel results of the 2015 car (designed by Tombazis) showed that it performed even worse than the F14-T. Tombazis was sent on vacation almost immediately and Allison and Resta were sent back to their drawing boards..

23

The men responsible for this car are still in Ferrari, their names are James Allison and Rory Byrne as an important advisor. Pat Fry and specially Tombazis were sacked for a reason.

25

Interesting Statistics: Drivers who have won races with three Different Manufacturers:

1. Vettel – STR, Redbull, Ferrari

2. Kimi – Mclaren, Ferrari, Lotus

3. Alonso – Renault, Mclaren, Ferrari

Strangely enough Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton (till date) has won with two different manufacturers

Can’t Classify Button for his BAR, Brawn and Maclaren, for BAR became Honda and Honda Became Brawn so it was nothing but re-badeging of the same team. So, Button with two different manufacturers.

What is interesting vide this statistics is that Alain Prost won with Four – Renault, Mclaren, Ferrari and Williams…. Impressive.

26

On statsf1.com, Button is down as 3. It’s the same with Jackie Stewart, getting credited with 4 teams (BRM, March, Matra, Tyrrel).

Stirling Moss has the most, winning with 5 different teams. It’s an interesting stat, but only in its proper context. Senna could’ve won Monaco in the Toleman, and surely would’ve won for Williams if he had lived. As for Schumacher, why move when you’re in the best car? He scored 72 wins for Ferrari. Then with Mercedes the car was only there for the 2012 Chinese GP, and he got beat to the win by a younger, hungrier, and ultimately faster teammate.

27

He got beaten to the win? he retired after the first round of pitstops.. Later they showed that barring mechanical problem schumi outqualifyed nico and outraced nico in 2012 when both finshed..

28

why are you still enjoying races which took place a long time ago when wejust witnessed a fresh surpriseingly enjoyable race on sunday?

29

Monaco ’12 was another chance, but the penalty from Spain before that ruined it. Bruno Senna moved at the last minute. The reliability was horrible for his Merc, anyway. Retired in China. Monaco pole at 42 says it all. Retired there as well.

30

@ James Allen

i am still wondering who is the strategist at Ferrari, who took the decision of not pitting when safety car appeared ???????????

Well imp thing this year with Ferrari is, it looks to be that James Alison has used its previously tried and tested formula of designing a car which is gentle on its tyres and with the improved power unit the whole package is doing Wonders.

Ferrari has a chance to exploit all the situations in future races where they have a chance of making ‘one less stop’.

31

Flash in a pan or not,what this this victory did was to re-ignite unpredictability in 2015 from pure performance stand point. Unlike 2014 where there was a different winner only when the Mercs failed. This year there is the narrowing of one’s eyes.

One cannot deny the fact that Ferrari is the most revered team in Formula one, so when it beat the Mercs fair and square re-ignited the passion back into the sport.

Of course we are all waiting for Mclaren Honda to solve their issues and get to the front to make it more interesting.

But, this victory took away that element of Monotony from the Sport which was the case last year.

Maybe Ferrari won’t win again this year, but this victory has done more good to Fornula One than any victories in the last five years.

32

I feel like ferrari could have gone quicker but were not pushing the tyres to the very limit so that they can run 2 stops. At least i hope so!

33

This GP showed all that Ferrari has got a great cooling package and also seem to have found traction without high levels of deg. Even the Hard tyre was working well.

34

It seems to me that F1 has lost its way. It would be good if F1 got back to basics, where the drivers race each other, we have now tyre engineers, fuel engineers, PU engineers winning and controlling the races. The Ferrari tyre engineer won the race and the Mercedes tyre engineer lost the race. I would like to see no radio contact with the driver or car once the race had started.

How can a driver call himself world champion when he is not allowed to compete with another driver, when he has to follow an engineers instruction from start to finish.

People hark after the old days but I never saw Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss getting radio instructions, mind you would like to see the reaction of James Hunt being given modern day instructions.

35

The following piece of music was playing in the Red Bull driver’s heads at race end due to Seb’s win

Click on link to find out what it is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH6wXaLQIMQ

36

Beats the crazy frog theme 🙂

37

I felt a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

38

I just hope that Fernando Alfonso is paying really close attention to Ferrari progress. Maybe he will learn to cooperate with his next management team. Or is it too late for that already, after heavysteeringGate?

39

Lewis had a troubled Friday FP1 & FP2

He commented on the Friday evening that he was still running with Melbourne settings…

The Mercedes set up seemed to compromise Vmax

Normally a high downforce set-up would be assumed to look after the tyres by reducing ‘slip’ – but it seems as if the balance was not good – Lewis even said as much post race.

James, even though Merc tried to play down the loss of Friday running, might this actually have been a reason that the Mercs never looked as comfortable at Sepang as they did at Albert Park?

Merc ran Options in Q1 and forced Sunday’s tyre choice as a result – but yet they hadn’t done the set-up work on Friday to demonstrate that this was the right strategy… – in the race Lewis was left fuming that he didn’t have Options left to race with – even though they gave him a better balance…

Did Merc really drop the ball Fri & Sat and the Ferrari win was a consequence?

40

Absolutely great to see two different manufacturers fighting it out at the sharp end.

Christian Horner said before the race that tyres would decide it and he was spot on.

It’s clear that this was a particular set of circumstances that helped Ferrari, but hang on……isn’t that the same as any win?

Ferrari have obviously moved forward regardless of the last race and are now %50 closer to reaching their season target of 2 wins,I should think they’ll have a good chance of achieving %100 come Bahrain with similar track temps.

Now as an lifelong fan of McLaren

And as a lifelong “not a fan” of Alonso it pains me to agree with him when he says that it’s only McLaren that can really beat MB and I agree with him,I think that Ferrari will indeed be at least on par with MB come mid to late season but it will be McLaren that is in front of them both.

41

Hmmm Bahrain is a night race and has nothing like the temperatures in Sepang (60c+) as a result.

Further the track surface is very different.

Tyre choice may have an affect but I very much doubt the temperature will.

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