If you are an F1 junkie like myself, then you have been watching winter testing through a microscope and you have likely concluded that Mercedes was going to be in a real fight with Ferrari for this year’s championship. And in the opening round of the current F1 season in Australia you would have seen Ferrari doing just that, taking the fight to the silver arrows. Maranello vs. Stuggart (and Brackley). Titan against Titan. Sebastian, the Red’s newly acquired champion vs. Lewis or Nico – Mano e Mano…
Then Fernando Alonso had a little run-in with Esteban Gutierrez and there went Seb and Ferrari’s much anticipated early season win. Now, just about halfway through the F1 calendar, the season is one of missed opportunities, poor reliability and frankly, some dodgy driving, which all have taken its toll on F1’s most famous team.
Now it would appear that as of late the red car is not keeping pace with its rivals. Looking back at winter testing, no one would have guessed the slump Ferrari has found themselves in and I am quite sure that no one would have guessed the Red Bull – Renault reboot would have produced a win, three other podium results and a mere six point differential between the two constructors.
What has gone so wrong for Ferrari? What is missing on race weekends that has allowed Red Bull to usurp the team that started the season with such promise and keep Ferrari clearly in its sights for second place in the constructors race? It’s no longer a fluke and we should take what Max says concerning Red Bull seriously.
Plenty of fans will say that F1 is boring in its current state of play. There is some truth to this. Those same fans will feel that where a team starts is usually where they finish more or less and there are many seasons over the years that will support this. Such is the nature of development in the modern era of ‘no testing’ in F1, unlike the years preceding the testing ban.
But Red Bull’s most recent outings on Sundays have proven this not to be the case. Where Ferrari has ceased moving closer to Mercedes, Red Bull has shown considerable gains and it definitely shows. Verstappen has now been on the second step twice fair and square and both times it was in front of a red car and then a silver one.
For the record it is exactly what F1 needs right now. It is all fine and well for Ferrari to be at the sharp end of the grid and fighting for wins but one might expect that since Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn ushered in the Scuderia’s rebirth some time ago. And Mercedes with their vast resources and racing pedigree were always going to become world champions, it was only a question of when. Unlike Japan, for example, racing was woven into the Germany psyche from very early on. No disrespect to Toyota, but Porsche, Audi / Auto Union, BMW, Mercedes, c’mon. The sheer number of racing wins that these four companies have in competition must be staggering, so pardon me when I say I kinda expected Merc to be where they are today.
Red Bull, despite all of their [early] success is not a car company and regardless of their stats really beat all the odds to win so comprehensively a few years back. That being said, no one would not doubt their status as one of the true big teams in F1 today, and that status is usually measured not by the wins you have, but by year in and year out always being at the front of the grid. That status is also defined by being able to catch, stay with, or overtake the other big teams at the front of the grid.
This is exactly what Red Bull has done, and in a mere nine races. If I was in Maranello I would be genuinely concerned that Max or Daniel or both could finish the season in front of Sebastian Vettel and oh won’t that get on Mr. Company Man Marchionne’s every last nerve?
Speaking of nerves, Hungary is this weekend and all eyes will be on whether Rosberg can stop the hemorrhaging of points to Hamilton. However, the story of Ferrari and the rumored crisis that is doing the rounds in the press will also be front and center. Can Ferrari finally collect a win? This track has been kind to them in the last two years: Alonso came second in ’14 and most likely would have won if not for a safety car, and Seb won Hungary last year in a car of arguably less capabilities. Lewis is on a roll, but this has not been a track that has produced great results for Mercedes recently.
For me, the more compelling story is the one that will be in the background. It is the story about not only the young gun Max Verstappen who is proving the experiment is a success so far, or that Renault has found its feet again (and it must be said they deserve a whole of a lot of credit for what they have achieved this year with reliability and horsepower), it is the story of Red Bull over Ferrari, the energy drinks company taking the fight (again) to the most famous motor sport company in F1.
The story coming out of Hungary on Sunday will be not only “Did Hamilton take the lead in the championship?” but also “Did Red Bull displace Ferrari for second?” That is truly what will be fascinating to watch. It is going to be a real pressure cooker in all three of the garages belonging to Merc, Ferrari and Red Bull and I for one will be relishing every moment, rubbing my hands together and licking my chops…I am sure you will be too!