This is a huge year and a big opportunity for Ferrari, as they attempt to end their long wait for a constructors title. Their last title came back in 2008, only twice in their history have Ferrari gone longer without a championship. They will need no reminding of this either though, the Italian media is quick to highlight the team’s inadequacies, and together with pressure from the infamous Tifosi, Ferrari know they have to deliver soon or heads roll (again).
Prior to the opening race in 2016 Ferrari had threatened pace and reliability in testing, expectations were high that they could challenge Mercedes’ dominance. This wasn’t to be however, and although only once in the opening 9 races did they miss out on the podium, they did so without race wins, which wasn’t going to be enough to keep the powers that be happy.
Just two further podiums from the remaining 12 races then followed, which for a team with Ferrari’s standing in the sport was unacceptable. Sebastian Vettel has stated since that progress was being made however, but that it wasn’t necessarily showing in their performance. Again, all well and good, but there’s only so long those who follow or finance Ferrari can hear such promises without getting restless at the lack of results.
In Vettel Ferrari have a man capable of dominance if given a car to his liking. His four back to back world titles with Red Bull tells you everything you need to know about how ruthless he can be if given the right machinery, his ability to lead from the front is probably the strongest on the grid, but Ferrari have to get there first. Many questioned his wheel to wheel ability at one time, having only ever shown his strength with a clear track in front of him, but even those accusations have been dispelled with some fine displays of overtaking since finding himself in a less dominant car.
If Ferrari have indeed got it right though, we have the exciting prospect of finally seeing Lewis Hamilton vs. Sebastian Vettel in near equal machinery. Between them they have seven of the last nine world titles, but you can’t help but think that when one has had the equipment, the other was too far back to form a real challenge. It has the potential to be one of the most compelling rivalries the sport has seen, as they both chase records and greatness, and if it’s close this season it’ll be compulsive viewing. It’s what the sport needs, especially with the loss of Nico Rosberg this year as Hamilton’s adversary.
Many wondered during the recent lack of success whether it was time for Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, to call it a day. The last man to win a title for Ferrari, Raikkonen’s performance since his return to the Scuderia in 2014 hasn’t been as smooth as either party would have hoped, and at 37, his career is certainly in its twilight years. He was utterly dominated during his first season back against Fernando Alonso, and has been beaten by Vettel the two years they’ve been paired together.
However a closer look at the stats show that Raikkonen is getting closer to the level he needs to be, after scoring just 55 points in 2014 (Alonso managed 161), he picked up 150 in 2015 (Vettel managed 278) and last year was closer to his teammate still, scoring 186 to Vettel’s 212. The Iceman finally looks settled back at Ferrari, and with Ferrari potentially looking competitive again, it’s come at just the right time.
Qualifying is where Raikkonen has really turned a corner though. In 2015 Vettel outperformed him 15-4 on Saturdays, which Raikkonen managed to turn around in 2016 and actually prevail 13-8. Vettel is renowned for his pace too, he sits 4th in the all-time list of pole positions, so this achievement is seen as a huge resurgence from the Finn. If he can repeat this feat in 2017 and capitalise on Sundays, Ferrari may have two drivers taking the fight to the Mercedes.
So we find ourselves in a familiar position, are we to believe Ferrari have turned a corner? The noises coming out of the paddock are that they have, Hamilton has publically stated he is worried about their pace. But the caveat is that these cloak and dagger games are not uncommon pre-season, none of the top teams are likely to have shown their genuine speed, so we won’t truly know until Saturday in Melbourne, where there may well be fireworks.