After the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari were full of mixed emotions.
They had thrown away a race victory, with a duff strategy for Sebastian Vettel, but at least had made Mercedes work for their 1-2 finish.
They could build on the result and really take the fight to them, despite being 0.8 down on the Silver Arrows in Q2, but having marginally better tyre wear. 2016 would be intriguing.
Or so it seemed. In the early season, out of eight possible finishes for Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, they only managed five, with two reliability issues, one each, and Vettel being punted out in Russia on lap 1.
Toward the end of the first half of the season, it wasn’t strategy problems that plagued the team, it was a return of unreliability and lack of performance that had stalled Ferrari’s efforts. They currently sit third in the constructors, after being jumped by Red Bull toward the end of the first-half.
Gearbox penalties seemed exclusive to Vettel’s car, with the Austrian/British double-header yielding just two points for him – although the Austrian DNF was tyre related, he started P8 after a five place penalty.
Whilst title favourite Hamilton scored 100/100 in July, Vettel could only manage 22. That is not title winning form. That is not even close to making a fight of it. But Ferrari is now in a fight. Against itself.
For the retro-fans of Formula One and Ferrari, the paint job on the SF16-H was a throwback to the legendary 312T series of cars in the 1970’s. After a building year in 2015 which saw Vettel win three times, things were promising in Maranello. James Allison had done a good job with a short time to design the ’15 chassis and a year under the Italian table would see the team kick on.
Pre-season looked promising, with Raikkonen only marginally faster than the Mercedes’ on race simulations on the medium tyre. A return to push-rod front suspension would help the drivers to control the car more, as both Vettel and Raikkonen don’t like the feel of the pull-rod previously used.
After the well-documented throwing away of the Australian Grand Prix, when after the red-flag Ferrari switched Vettel to another set of SuperSoft, instead of Medium as Rosberg did, Maurizio Arrivabene was bullish about the teams chances in the future.
But the promising start was soon shattered when technical director Allison suffered a personal tragedy and switched his attention to his family and development on the car slowed.
It was reported that since Barcelona, minimal technical updates have been added to the car, and as Mercedes and Red Bull have continued to develop, the 16-time constructor champions have been left behind although the chassis is still probably the third best on the grid.
The Power Unit is reportedly only a handful of BHP down on the Mercedes offering as an overall package, with the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), reportedly level on terms of power output, with just the Merc’s Energy recovery systems putting it ahead, but the gearboxes have just been imploding, with Vettel suffering from three separate failures.
After his allowed Annus Horriblis in 2014, Vettel found his mojo again in 2015 and seemed a rejuvenated figure. Despite the debacle in Australia, he remained positive after netting the third place finish at “one of our worst tracks”, a statement he also used in 2015.
A frustrating opening four races, yielded just 33 points, an engine failure and the first of many occasions of turning the radio airwaves blue after Daniil Kvyat accidently decided to play dodgems with the Ferrari in Russia.
Podiums in Spain and Canada, perhaps could’ve and should’ve been two and one place(s) higher on the rostrum, and despite being an ardent defender of what Ferrari do, toward the summer break he started to question, on team radio, the strategy calls being made. He did so most notably in Germany, when the pit-wall seemed ambitious, to put it mildly, to try and undercut Max Verstappen, who was more than 5s up the road.
Vettel currently sits fifth in the standings, on 120 points with five podium finishes, but not one since June’s European Grand Prix. After harbouring thoughts of a fifth drivers title, Vettel’s thoughts will now be filled on at least trying to secure third in the standings.
To be ahead of teammate Vettel at half-way marks a solid 2016 for Kimi Raikkonen, even if it is by just two points. Four podium finishes is a respectable return, although with a better start he could’ve challenged for the middle podium step in Bahrain.
After being trounced by Fernando Alonso in 2014 and well-beaten by Vettel in 2015, there was much doubt about the Finn’s future in F1. However, a series of well-driven races, Bahrain and Hungary were two of his best performances in a long while, has seen the team somewhat surprisingly sign a deal with Raikkonen to keep him on for 2017.
The pace he showed in Hungary was spectacular, until he got held behind Verstappen, and had he not been the victim of a chaotic qualifying session, he could’ve taken it to the Mercedes.
They say that the first aim of any racing driver is to beat your teammate, and Raikkonen, the unofficial number two at Maranello, has done exactly that thus far.
2017 should be a good year for Raikkonen with the new complex aerodynamic regulations better suited to the Finn’s driving style, as opposed to the current ones with the wide front wings and narrow rear wings.
He is the perfect teammate to Vettel, apolitical, a fan favourite and on his day he can push the German, but for another ride in 2018, he must have more of them in the remainder of a so far respectable 2016 and whatever 2017 holds.
Goals for the rest of the season:
Finish second in the constructors. After their title aim evaporated, the next best thing for Ferrari is to finish as runners-up with a strong end to the season, maybe claiming one or two wins.
Raikkonen always goes well in Belgium, whilst Vettel is something of a master around the Marina Bay streets of Singapore.
But Red Bull are rising, with a better chassis than the Italian team, and two drivers who are among the best partnerships in the field. If Ferrari are to finish P2 in the championship, it will take everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.
Something that hasn’t been happening too often in ’16. It was reported that a factor in Allison’s decision to jump ship was Sergio Marchionne – team chairman – was tinkering too much in the design department.
That can’t happen on for the rest of ’16 and if it does it could have a knock-on effect for 2017, and as cars are often evolutions of the previous years’ 2018 onwards could be struggle for the legendary Prancing Horse.