Why Ferrari might just snatch it away in 2017..
|Kimi Raikkonen on Day 4/ Autosport Gallery|
You know F1 is ready for a major shake up when fans are genuinely happy about the new regulations and cars. F1 2017 has ticked most of the boxes - better noise, faster cars, wider cars, better video content on social media and of course, an element of nail-biting rivalry between teams. And time after time, despite being called "mundane" and "predictable", the keyboard warriors often find themselves proven wrong with F1's unpredictabilty.
For instance, nobody would have predicted Ferrari's 3 wins in 2015 after a win-less campaign in 2014. Not many could have predicted a win-less 2016 for Ferrari after a triumphant 2015 season. Not one would have said Max Verstappen would be a grand prix winner in a Red Bull car in 2016.
Pre-season testing poses a similar challenge for fans, leaving them with bits and pieces of information, some true and some possibly untrue, to complete a jigsaw puzzle called F1 2017. But, one musn't lose heart, therefore I will attempt to break it down and bring out a possible prediction.
Mercedes - the humble beast underneath the hood?
Mercedes have completed the two rounds of testing with not many issues hindering their sessions. Valtteri Bottas, the newest addition to Mercedes drove the most number of laps of the pack while Lewis Hamilton stuck to real time simulations as Mercedes would have arguably depended on his feedback more. Another interesting observation to be made from the behavior of the two drivers over the course of 8 days was their presence in the media. Whilst Bottas was lot less vocal in the interviews, Hamilton on a diamterically opposite mission - often commenting on their rival teams and drivers. One of the most interesting comments being
"I think there's more to come from [Ferrari].. their pace really has been spectacular"
Judging by the lap times alone, Lewis' assessment of Ferrari doesn't seem far off. Kimi Raikkonen's lap time was 3.366s faster than the 2016 pole position time at the Circuit de Calatunya. But those who know Lewis Hamilton, would say this is one of his strong suits: to play mindgames early on. Fuel loads and engine maps on the Mercedes are unknown, this would be the best time of the year to play kidology for Mercedes and who best to do it better than the 3 time world champion?
|Valtteri Bottas/ Autosport gallery|
Now, Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel have reacted by playing his words right back at him:
”If you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done, at how slow they go in testing historically, how much they can ramp it up for races, it’s clear," Vettel said. "They are the ones to beat"
The question is, how legitimate is Ferrari's pace?
Aside from the caveats, let's deal with laptimes here:
In 2016, the Ferrari's were on an average about 0.2-0.3s off of Mercedes' pace during winter testing whereas just a few weeks later in Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton's flying lap around Albert Park put Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel on a deficit of 0.8s on the same tire. Historically, Mercedes and Red Bull have run on heavier fuel loads than the Ferraris during testing. Allowing a certain time uncertainty given to time gained in engine settings, as per Dr. Helmut Marko an additional 10 kilos of fuel adds to 0.3s in a lap around Barcelona. According to sources, the Italian outfit runs about 30 kilos lighter which would account for 0.9s a lap.
To put this in 2017 positions, take a look at the fastest times set by drivers on soft tires for equal comparison:
1. Ferrari 1:19.0
2. Mercedes 1:19.8
3. Red Bull 1:19.8
4. Williams 1:20.4
Ferrari is 8 tenths ahead of Mercedes and Red Bull on the current timing sheets. When corrected to the addition of cost of laptime with 30 kilos of fuel on board, Mercedes will be ahead of Ferrari by merely a tenth of a second. This, however, is once again subject to whether and if Mercedes truly were running on light on fuel. Testing reports even claim that Ferrari drivers have sandbagged in both sessions; often lifting off the throttle when on the straights.
Ferrari's potential in 2017
The target for Ferrari is most definitely to win races in 2017, unlike 2016. With the current look of cars, from mere screen observation, the SF70-H looks very strong under braking (view clips of the Ferraris going through T1, T3, T9/10). The car is able to kiss the corners smoothly without facing major issues and the power unit too is very reliable. In fact, Ferrari are the only works team on the grid that have completed more laps than their 2016 count, this in itself is a clear indication of a step taken in the right direction.
Another fix Ferrari have made to their usual pre-season routine is to control what is being said out to the media and giving the media much to say about them. Seldom have we had a rather simple Ferrari launch with no interviews of drivers or imposing a media blackout
|Maurizio Arrivabene, Team Principal of Ferrari/ Autosport gallery|
Finally, one of the most important reasons why, apart from building a strong car, Ferrari might be able to take it all the way in 2017 is because of its drivers. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel have been drivers who love to have a feel of the rear end of their car - a major player in Kimi's 2007 car and the Red Bull cars from 2010-2013 that allowed Vettel to clinch 4 titles. Both these drivers need to have rear end downforce to feel comfortable in the car, which is exactly what the 2017 rules emphasize on - corner speeds, not straightline.
In addition, Sebastian Vettel has also done more miles on the 2017 Pirelli tires than any other driver on the grid - critical understanding that could be the difference between the winners and losers of 2017. Vettel has taken keen interest in the testing and development of these tires just as he has in the previous seasons allowing Ferrari to tweak the car correctly to get optimum results with the tires.
2017 will be an interesting year with the top 3 lurking around in the same corner unlike previous years. I predict a Ferrari surge and possibly, if their pace, consistency and strategy issues are sorted, a championship by the end of the year!