We are weeks away, in fact 13 days until lights out in Melbourne, Australia. Testing has concluded in Catalunya with teams critically analyzing every detail to gain whichever advantage over their rivals.
This is arguably the biggest season for Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari career. He joined the Italian team back in 2015 and has been in the shadow of now five-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton and his constructors’ amalgamates Mercedes ever since.
It has now been 12 years since Scuderia last won a driver’s championship and 11 years the constructors’ title – something which is bewildering in hindsight considering the team’s history and contribution to the sport.
Ferrari approached Vettel in 2014 when he was still at Austrian team Red Bull and was struggling with then new arrival Daniel Ricciardo outracing him in several. Scuderia was also on the charge to rival the Silver Arrows, having significantly fallen behind the German powerhouse.
2015 and 2016 were experimental seasons for Vettel and the team, playing mostly second fiddle to Hamilton and his cohorts who by then had established themselves as the track sheriffs. They dominated so much that it became a frosty title challenge between their two drivers Hamilton and Nico Rosberg who would later go on to win the Championship in 2016.
Ferrari did eventually close the gap on Mercedes in 2017 with a series of stellar track performances, finding a makeshift balance between pace and reliability. It was however Mercedes who managed to deliver better performance packages in the second half of the season to leave their rivals red in the face. Hamilton claimed a seemingly comfortable fourth Champion by 46 points over Vettel.
If there was ever a season that inflicted pain on the Scuderia faithful, it is undoubtedly the 2018 season where things came apart by the seams. It would be hard to argue that it wasn’t the reason former team principal Maurizio Arrivabene got sacked.
A series of driver errors from Vettel himself and questionable strategic approaches the plight of a dreadful second half season. The consequences? Another Driver’s Championship for Hamilton and the Silver Arrows.
Last season will be firmly etched in the back of the men in red, but there’s a renewed sense of optimism. Contributing to that might be the arrival of French prodigy Charles Leclerc who showed his class and skill in the Sauber producing some outstanding performances throughout the 2018 season.
Leclerc will have a good car and judging by what he did with the Sauber, it’s hard not place him in the frame for the Championship battle. Early signs show the SF90 might be the car to bring an end to the title drought.
Ferrari last won a constructors’ championship in 2008 when Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen finished second and third respectively – Hamilton winning it with McLaren that season. If Vettel and Leclerc can perform at their peak, it would take something special to prevent them from winning the constructors’ with all respect to Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton.
Mattia Binotto will look to rally his charges to give Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda something to think about. It’s an all but familiar everything-to-gain and everything-to-lose situation for the Prancing Horse team, but early signs show they are ready to throw everything at Mercedes. Also not forgetting the threat posed by Christian Horner’s Red Bulls, who are the dark horses and could throw a spanner in the works.
The countdown to Melbourne has begun and we’ll have a more definite consensus when the checkered flag waves after 58 laps. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a riveting ride until Yas Marina and we cannot wait.