The engine failure for Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain was certainly a painful blow to Ferrari, dropping Vettel 35 points behind Nico Rosberg already and costing the team the chance to stay in touch with Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship.
By pushing the envelope on the engine, these are the risks that Ferrari decided to take in seeking to bridge the gap to Mercedes from 2015 to this year. But there could be good news on the horizon.
An injector failure is being discussed as the cause of Vettel’s failure, the damage likely to be severe enough for the four time champion to need a new unit for the next event in China. This is not the end of the world, as the teams have five engines for the 2016 season, despite there only being two more races than in 2015, when they had four. So there is some room for manoeuvre.
Perhaps more significant is the development which is coming for the team on the turbo, which was due for China and has now been pushed back to Spain, while the customer teams will get it for Austria.
This will fix a problem whereby vibrations from the turbo, which is seeking to spin at very high speeds, are causing the unit to overheat. Ferrari has not been able to exploit the full potential of its unit as a result and has had to run more conservatively.
Bahrain however showed that they have made strides on the control electronics side and the speeds they were achieving show that, once the turbo issue is fixed, there will be little to choose between the Ferrari and the Mercedes on power.
The problem is that they have already lost this early ground in both championships and cannot get it back.
If we think back to the two four-day tests in Barcelona, Mercedes had everyone guessing by covering very high mileages on the medium tyres, not going for lap times, but going for reliability. This has paid off in the opening rounds and the only points dropped are the three Hamilton did not pick up for second place rather than third in Bahrain, after a tangle on the opening lap caused car damage.
In contrast Ferrari has retired two cars from four starts, which has cost them 30 points.
The turbo fix will also have a positive effect for the customer teams, especially Haas, which appears to be in a battle with Force India, Toro Rosso and even Williams.
Toro Rosso uses the 2015 Ferrari engine, so will not be in line for any of the developments during the season and this will allow Haas to move ahead of them.
If you bear in mind the points Haas has already scored and project forward through the season, it’s not inconceivable that the American newcomers could finish sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, which would be worth approximately US$30m in prize money, to be paid next season.
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