How do you solve a problem like Ferrari?
Every race weekend this year has started with Ferrari proclaiming their own promise, and ended with them miles behind Mercedes, unable to mount a realistic challenge.Updated: May 14, 2019 13:22 IST
Ferrari may be the most historic and vociferously revered team in Formula One, but its current season is proving as woeful as the underwhelming final whimper of Game Of Thrones.
Every race weekend this year has started with Ferrari proclaiming their own promise, and ended with them miles behind Mercedes, unable to mount a realistic challenge. It is increasingly apparent that they are a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
Even Ferrari’s massively hyped new engine at the Spanish Grand Prix this Sunday couldn’t close the gap. The Reds may be faster in a straight line but — in comparison to Mercedes — struggle for pace coming out of the corners. Ferrari do seem quicker on new medium tyres, but haven’t been able to capitalise on that advantage, instead capsizing their chances with abysmal strategic decisions.
On Sunday, Sebastian Vettel went for broke. The Ferrari driver, tired of playing unworthy pursuer, took his car from third on the grid to right up front, bringing it alongside the duelling Mercedes cars of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. It could have been one of those swashbuckling moves racers admire and envy.
Vettel came close when he locked his brakes and flat-spotted his tyres, wrecking his race pace immediately and falling back, even as his frisky teammate Charles LeClerc closed in on him.
A slower Ferrari (begging for a pitstop) being tailed by a faster Ferrari. This is when teams make drivers swap, so they don’t hold each other up. However, Ferrari — as is becoming sadly typical — dithered, executing the swap so late it ruined LeClerc’s chances of catching the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Later in the race, a blindingly fast Vettel on medium tyres was bottled up behind LeClerc on hard tyres.
Again, the swap took place a few laps too late. Ross Brawn, all-time king of strategy and former Ferrari wizard (now the MD of Formula One motorsports), must be crushed by this crimson cluelessness.
How much, however, can strategy do? The Mercedes cars are so damned dominant it would take some severely foxy pitwall to nobble them.
Their driver battle is fascinating, with Bottas qualifying a monumental 0.6 of a second ahead of Hamilton, and Hamilton squeezing past not only on Turn One but also during a crucial race restart, bringing his infamous hammer down to take the extra point for fastest lap as soon as the Safety Car vanished.
Hamilton provides marvels even during a dull, processional race. That restart, where he slowed down the field while himself bolting away, was a masterclass. Ferrari are in desperate need of counsel, while Hamilton’s car looks piloted by the hand of the king.
(The writer is a film critic and India’s longest-running Formula One columnist)
First Published: May 14, 2019 13:22 IST