Ital­ians rat­tle Mercedes in Aus­tralian GP, and vow not to back off

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Rob Lad­brook

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’ fears

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

Both Fer­raris vaulted ahead of Mercedes at the start and stayed there un­til the red flag pe­riod

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