AGGRESSIVE FERRARI TO STRIKE BACK
Italians rattle Mercedes in Australian GP, and vow not to back off
Ferrari head Maurizio Arrivabene says the team will not ditch its aggressive approach to races this year, after narrowly missing victory in last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
Ferrari enjoyed a strong start to the season in Melbourne, proving that the Maranello squad has eroded the performance gap to world championship dominator Mercedes over the winter.
Despite drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen sharing the second row of the grid behind the works Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, both Ferraris leapfrogged the Mercedes in the opening corners, with Vettel leading the majority of the first half of the race.
Ferrari adopted an aggressive tyre strategy, opting to fit two sets of super-soft Pirellis to both Vettel and Raikkonen’s cars, committing both drivers to a two-stop strategy.
The red flag stoppage, caused by Fernando Alonso’s frightening accident ( see Racing News), unseated Ferrari and instead played into the hands of Mercedes, which switched to medium tyres after the stoppage to run long.
Despite losing the race, Arrivabene was adamant that Ferrari wouldn’t back off as it aims to fight for this year’s world championship.
“Our pace for the first part of the grand prix was good, before the race was red-flagged, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse,” he said. “This only shows that you shouldn’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
“We were confident [of winning the race] before the red flag. On the pitwall we were confident in all honesty. At certain points we were looking at the gap, we were looking at our strategy prediction and we were quite comfortable. But certain decisions can be right or wrong. We looked at the gap we were gaining [on the supersofts] and at the time our idea was to go with our strategy and keep on, but the red flag came and we didn’t win the race.
“Today’s race serves as a reminder to us to push even harder, with even more humility and dedication, starting already at the next race in Bahrain.”
Fight is on
Despite Vettel emulating his third place of last year’s season-opener in Australia, Ferrari’s spirits have been buoyed by the clear progress the team has made over the winter.
Vettel led a total of 31 laps from the start, with his fastest race lap being a comfortable 0.5s quicker than race winner Rosberg’s. Ferrari’s radical reworking of its SF16-H, which included a move back to conventional pushrod front suspension and sweeping upgrades of its power unit, has closed the gap to Mercedes, if not surpassed it on the basis of long-run pace.
Vettel said the team could take great encouragement for the season ahead after its performance in Melbourne. He
said: “I think we are a lot closer [to Mercedes]. Last year this was one of our worst tracks so there are plenty of positives to take from this.
“Surely the red flag didn’t help us, and equally we benefited from the start, but sometimes things work in your favour and sometimes they don’t.
“We had a great race. We went an aggressive route – maybe in hindsight we could have done something else – but we are a team, we win and lose together.
“We expect more from this year. Last year was a bit of an unknown. I think we were happy to be on the podium here after the season Ferrari had in 2014. This year we come in with more expectations. Naturally when you finish second in the Constructors’ Championship you want to challenge for first. I think we managed to close the gap more than anyone else.
“There has been a lot of work back at Maranello on this car and I think we have the right car to allow us to put pressure on these guys [Mercedes]. We know that the benchmark is still high, but things are coming together. We are definitely a lot closer.”
One blot on Ferrari’s copybook was the retirement of Raikkonen, who was in contention for a podium when he had to pit with a fire in his car’s air box. The Finn said: “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I don’t think the problem was related to the engine as that was still running. It’s unfortunate for the whole team.
“After the winter we had a rough idea that we should be pretty OK this year. Qualifying was a funny day for everybody, so we knew the time gap to the Mercedes wasn’t real. The car has been handling very well, it’s fast and you get a good feeling from it. We still have some work to do though.”
Mercedes knows it has a fight on its hands with Ferrari this year, after having to battle back from a series of problems during the race to win.
Despite dominating qualifying, both cars made tardy starts, and then lacked race pace when their super-softs experienced excessive graining during the first stint. It prompted the team to switch both drivers to a one-stop strategy, but both cars benefited from fresh medium tyres during the red flag period.
Hamilton said he had been impressed by what he’d seen from Ferrari, and said his second place finish was hard-earned.
“I feel I achieved quite a lot today, and I’m really happy because it was damage limitation,” said Hamilton, who survived a first corner brush with Rosberg and dropped as low as seventh during the race.
“It was difficult to know how long the tyres were going to last. It was so slippery at times. We thought Ferrari were going to be close. I knew they would have been quicker in qualifying if they’d had another lap. Nico doesn’t seem to think he had problems following them, so that’s interesting. But when Sebastian was following me it was exciting because I was in a race.
“Ferrari is obviously there and in the battle as you’ve seen today, so hopefully we have some exciting races ahead of us.”
Maurizio Arrivabene “It’s a reminder to push even harder”
Hamilton and Vettel fought