After a strong contention by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the start of 2017, the situation began to crumble for the Italian team from Maranello - the power deficit at Spa and Monza, Hamilton’s dominance, the Singapore start-line crash and to top it all off, the reliability issues in Sepang and Suzuka to put the nail in the coffin for Vettel’s chances. Ferrari’s mindset for 2018 (like every team) was to get back to the top of the mountain, produce a car with an ascending advantage over the Mercedes and Red Bull…
Come winter testing in Barcelona, Ferrari were viewed as perhaps the third best car in the field judged off of pace. Their reliability on the power unit was bulletproof similarly to the Mercedes garage but controversy had already been sparked by the media’s keen eye. When the cars were preparing to leave the Ferrari garage, a plume of smoke would fill the air within the tight space and essentially smoke screen the pit lane. When the Ferrari powered cars were out on track, you were able to view a plume of burning oil or smoke being dissipated beside the safety rear lights. To put it simply, there was suspicion that the Ferrari engine was burning too much oil for their engine. To put it simply, for every 100 kilometres, you are allowed to burn a maximum of 0.6 litres of oil. Ferrari were rumoured in 2016 to have exceeded this limit before the rule came into play before the 2017 season.
With controversy brewing up aside, Ferrari travelled to Albert Park hoping for an improvement in pace. With the start of a new season in a rather fresh set of regulations, it is rather unclear to tell who has the fastest race car until the final lap in Qualifying. When Q3 came, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen were all separated by a mesmerising 0.060 seconds after the first runs. All of a sudden on the final run, Hamilton in his Mercedes strung together a lap so mind-boggling that nobody could get within half a second or even six tenths of. Kimi and Sebastian were going to start second and third on the grid. In the race, Kimi triggered Hamilton’s pitstop and Sebastian stayed out, keeping around a thirteen second gap between himself and Hamilton. When a Virtual Safety Car was deployed, Sebastian miraculously jumped both Hamilton and Raikkonen in the pit lane, allowing him to hold track position and come away with a win.
Let’s fast forward to get to the pivotal stages within the 2018 season - Vettel took a masterclass victory in Bahrain, holding off Bottas on much older rubber. In China, Sebastian was taken out by Verstappen at the hairpin, causing Vettel to drop down to sixth whilst lighting up and ruining his tyres. He was eventually overtaken by his German compatriot Hulkenberg and old rival Fernando Alonso. In Baku, Vettel looked in control when the ol’ switcheroo of fortune occured - Bottas played the long game and jumped Vettel in the pit lane when a Safety Car was deployed. At the restart, Vettel decided to lunge Bottas into turn one, causing him to lock up and end up fourth place in a race he so desperately wanted to win. Spain was awful for Sebastian, coming close in qualifying to the dominant Mercedes but finishing fourth behind a rapid Max Verstappen. Monaco was a good weekend, outpacing Lewis to finish second behind Ricciardo who was essentially untouchable all weekend. Canada was Sebastian’s strongest race of the season in my view, pacing himself well at the front and never really looking in doubt to claim the victory…
Now we dive back into the details - at the French Grand Prix, Vettel made contact with Bottas at turn one due to a front left lock up, demoting himself to the penultimate places by the end of the safety car. Vettel showed electrifying pace, slicing his way through the pace onto a fifth place recovery drive due to his first lap mishap. At the Red Bull Ring on Saturday, Sebastian Vettel was found to be at fault of impeding Carlos Sainz’ lap, giving him a three place demotion to sixth for the race. He inherited positions from the Mercedes and Ricciardo retiring to finish third place on yet another recovery drive. The British Grand Prix saw Ferrari stretch their legs on Mercedes as they outpaced them to a first place finish ahead of a disheartened Lewis Hamilton who came into contact with Kimi Raikkonen into the loop section.
Now, now this is where the pendulum begins to swing. During the German Grand Prix weekend. Ferrari looked and was the fastest car. It was suspected that Ferrari was gaining almost five tenths on the Mercedes powered cars… how is this possible for a power unit which struggled to keep up months prior? Anyways, the race appeared in orchestration for the Scuderia. As Crofty said, ‘Dark clouds looming over as the scarlet red Ferrari’s lead the silver arrows of the Mercedes’. Around lap 35, Kimi was issued a team order to let Vettel by due to ‘different strategies’ which allowed Vettel to push on and build a gap of almost ten seconds. Suddenly, on lap 43, the television shot prevailed the heavens opening on the hairpin where Hamilton was with his fresh ultrasoft compounds. Whilst Hamilton was catching the top three on a wet and dry surface, disaster struck…
Vettel made the smallest of errors with the largest of consequences. Some say this incident was due to the face he had picked up oil from Sirtokin’s car which had retired minutes near prior. Regardless of how it happened, Vettel struggled to keep the car slowed down heading into the Sachs curve and went straight into the barrier - to the delight of Verstappen fans as well as the heartbreak of the Ferrari fans. Not only did Vettel mess up his race victory, but Ferrari also threw away Kimi’s chance at a race victory, choosing to wait an extra lap after Bottas pitted to put on new ultrasofts. If Kimi had pitted, he could have emerged ahead of Bottas due to the Mercedes kerfuffle taking place. Mercedes led home a one-two on Vettel’s home court with Hamilton winning from fourteenth on the grid - his lowest grid position from which he had taken victory.
What appeared to be a second coming of 2017, Ferrari had to close the gap back on Mercedes again. Vettel now second in the drivers championship, Hungary was a pivotal weekend heading into the summer break… Budapest is considered to be ‘Monaco without the barriers’, a tough, humid race on the drivers with temperatures of 55 degrees celsius within the cockpit, the heat was beginning to rise for Vettel and Ferrari. On Friday however the script flipped again, Ferrari looked well ahead of the Mercedes and Red Bull with Vettel looking destined to get the traditional win in Hungary. Dark clouds loomed over on Qualifying day and ensued a raindance. Q2 was a great performance by Vettel, setting a lap time right at the beginning which guaranteed safety into the next session with rain intensity on the rise. Come Q3, the rain was in full force and the pressure was on for all drivers. Despite Pierre Gasly being the man of the hour, it was Mercedes who had stunned the greatest upset to Ferrari fans, locking out the front row on what was considered to be Ferrari’s race winning soil. In the race, Bottas acted as a very wide road block for the prancing horses whilst Hamilton set off into the distance. In the dying laps, Bottas was compromised off his exit heading into turn 2 with Vettel performing a switchback. As they reached the turn, Bottas braked too late, hitting Vettel who managed to get away without a puncture. Despite Bottas’ struggle, Mercedes still outscored the Ferrari team by 2 points.
The Belgian Grand Prix was one with great anticipation after 2017. The previous year witnessed the championship rivals going side by side multiple times down the Kemmel Straight. On qualifying day, a repeat of Hungary occured. Ferrari appeared to be ahead of Mercedes on the Friday but at Q3, the rain shed upon the track, hampering Ferrari’s pace and allowing Hamilton to steal the pole position in the forest. When lights went out on Sunday afternoon, Vettel slipstreamed and used the power of the upgraded Ferrari engine to get ahead of Hamilton and the Force India cars, leading from start to finish. The media began to enthrall with the hype, buying into the championship battle going into Abu Dhabi. With the Ferrari appearing to be stronger, Hamilton’s chances had to be taken and ran away with given the time they come.
Monza was a festival of speed, history and delight for neutral fans across the globe. Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest lap in F1 history, averaging over 163 miles per hour across a 3.6 mile magical circuit. Ferrari locked out the front row with a tenth to spare ahead of Hamilton in third. The last Ferrari win came in 2010 with Fernando Alonso leading home Mark Webber in the Red Bull so hopes began to rise - and somewhat compress on Vettel. Kimi led Vettel and Hamilton into turn one, the Mercedes and Ferrari making slight contact. Going through the curva grande, Hamilton was slipstreaming Vettel who was slipstreaming Kimi going into the chicane. Vettel dived to the inside but Kimi cut him off, forcing Vettel to decelerate and allow Hamilton a chance to get ‘alongside Vettel, oh so close!’ ‘And they’ve touched Martin, Hamilton and Vettel… has been spun round ! Disaster for Sebastian Vettel at the start of this race. He touched with Lewis Hamilton going through the chicane, Hamilton coming off best. Sebastian Vettel losing places, he’s down in eighteenth!’. The turning point of the championship, Vettel’s eagerness to pass Kimi exposed him for an attack from Hamilton who outbraked him around the outside. Vettel suffered understeer and made contact with Lewis’ sidepod, meaning a recovery drive to fourth position was his best hope. Bottas acted as another road block for Hamilton, damaging Raikkonen’s tyres and allowing Hamilton to pounce into the first chicane on his way to victory in front of the disgruntled Tifosi.
After Monza’s disastrous display from Ferrari and Mercedes’ excelling performance, Singapore was a do or die weekend for Ferrari. Trailing Mercedes and making consistent errors on strategy and driving, Vettel needed to string together a performance Rosberg-esque from 2016. Surely they had the fastest car, so they just have to be on the pace? Well, it went wrong for Ferrari (again), qualifying six tenths off of Hamilton and three tenths off of Verstappen, leaving them third and fifth at a race they expected to lock out the front row. In the race, Vettel managed to get ahead of Verstappen down the back straight and gave himself the opportunity to battle Hamilton. Mystifying to Mercedes’ record around the streets, Hamilton had the pace over Ferrari and kept extending the gap. In order to counter this, Ferrari decided to bring in Vettel on a set of ultrasofts to put the pressure on Verstappen, switching to a two stop. Coming out the pits, Vettel was held up by Sergio Perez for a number of laps, hindering his pace and allowing Verstappen to overcut the Ferrari in the pits. Vettel elected to conserve his ultrasoft tyres to the end and finished almost 40 seconds off Hamilton in first, falling to 40 points behind in the championship.
A massive inquiry by fans and media set fire on Ferrari. Where did Ferrari’s pace go? Why were they not able to compete in Singapore? Well, I mentioned earlier about the controversy of the oil burning… the controversy of the double battery had risen again. The FIA had fitted a second sensor to the batteries, monitoring the battery output per lap. If you didn’t know, Ferrari ran a double battery setup within the power unit - one connected to the MGU-K and the other to the MGU-H, working in harmony. Teams were skeptical as to how the Ferrari continued to accelerate at the same rate despite such a high speed being obtained. The use of the sensor correlated with the sudden loss of pace leads to theory that Ferrari’s engine was using more than the allocated 4MJ of energy per lap. Arrivabene does deny this but what else could it be?
In Russia, the pace of Mercedes was superior, Bottas and Hamilton locking out the front row and finishing 1-2 with a scent of team orders and controversy. However, Ferrari appeared to have a scent of hope themselves when Vettel undercut Hamilton. Hamilton performed a fantastic overtake on Sebastian going into turn 4, allowing him to overtake Bottas due to ‘blistering’. Vettel was now 50 points behind. In Japan, Ferrari made yet another fatal strategic error. With rain falling lightly, Ferrari gambled by using intermediates when everybody else used slick tyres. Vettel ended up qualifying in ninth position. In the start of the race, Vettel managed to get off to a flyer, getting up to fourth place behind Verstappen following some excellent moves into the Spoon curve entry, but one move too many seemed inevitable. With Verstappen’s battery clipping on the straight, Vettel closed in with the use and dove it up the inside into Spoon curve, causing a collision and sending him down to 18th place. Vettel didn’t have to make the move as he knew Verstappen had a 5 second penalty and he also knew that the Red Bull was suffering from a lack of pace down the back straight into 130R. It really was the icing on the cake to a season of blunders, mistakes and mishaps from Ferrari. Vettel now trails by 67 points going into Austin with 4 races remaining… it would be an absolute miracle if he clawed this gap back.