365体育投注APPFormula 1 is now in the seventh year of its hybrid era but whereas Mercedes goes from strength to strength and already looks on course for another title Ferrari is as far away from glory as it has ever been, while Red Bull is also on the backfoot. steveoglesby.com takes a look at the strife endured by Mercedes’ expected opponents.
Long road for Ferrari
Ferrari has finished second to Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship for the past three years but it has opened 2020 in disastrous fashion. It has not had one cataclysmic event that has undermined its efforts: it has fallen short in nearly every area. The car is aerodynamically average. The engine has lost power. Its drivers have made errors – compounded by the car’s troubles. It has been strategically weak. Again. Ferrari is historically associated with the number 27 – but that the figure is its points tally after three events shows the depths to which it has sunk, only fifth in the standings, already a chunk behind McLaren and Racing Point.
If there was a slim hope that Austria would prove an outlier that door was firmly slammed shut in Hungary. Its drivers were 1.3s off the pace around a Hungaroring circuit that places a greater emphasis on downforce than engine prowess, and in race trim both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were lapped. It is the first time since Spain 2011 that Ferrari has not had a car on the lead lap in normal grand prix conditions. It did not help itself either. Vettel’s strong start was squandered with dithering at the pit stop and his race was only saved as he over-ruled the initial request to put him on Softs, instead taking on Mediums. It is not the first time he has acted as the strategist alongside the position as driver. The less experienced Leclerc obliged by taking on Softs, vaulted ahead, but then quickly haemorrhaged lap time. That Ferrari kept him out as long as they did was another perplexing decision. He was losing four seconds a lap. The pit stop put him out of the top 10, and he did not have the pace to make substantial progress, classifying 11th. A Ferrari. On merit. In 11th.
“I’m not sure what happened, because we didn’t make changes to the car, but it was extremely hard to drive, as the balance was so much worse than Friday and Saturday, when it was actually better than expected,” said Leclerc, who justified his pre-weekend prediction that Ferrari was nowhere near the podium fight. “It just didn’t feel like the same car.” That particular addition will set alarm bells ringing for it was a similar complaint issued by Vettel at the first Austrian round. Not only does the car lack cornering ability, and straight-line speed, but it is not providing its drivers much in the way of confidence. A superb combination. Expectations have plunged so low that Vettel was not in the least bit surprised to find himself lapped.
Can it be fixed?
Put simply, no. Ferrari is in this hole in the short-term, medium-term, and faces a race against time to rectify it long-term. On a short-term basis the speed in Hungary was underwhelming and coming up there are a host of power-hungry circuits – Silverstone, Spa, Monza and its home track Mugello – that will expose the engine deficiency. In Austria team boss Mattia Binotto said Ferrari was losing 70 per cent of its time on the straights. Under the current regulations the engine specification is frozen, meaning that any work being undertaken back at Maranello cannot be implemented until 2021. Binotto had asserted that the altered philosophy of the SF1000 had led to the speed deficit, pointing to its drag, but in Hungary conceded for the first time that the Technical Directives issued towards the end of last year also hampered its 2020 prospects.
365体育投注APP“Since last year a lot of TDs have been released, eventually clarifying some of the areas of regulations, I think it through those TDs we had to adapt ourselves,” he said. “I don’t think it is only the case Ferrari, because looking at the power output of this season I think most manufacturers somehow had to adapt themselves but certainly as Ferrari we had to adapt and as a simple output of that we lost some of the performance we had.”
That was met with short-shrift by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “There is a clear regulation on power units that had been clarified in Austin what we are allowed to do and not, which was important,” he said. “I think the irony of the story is that we were pushed by some of our competitors to absolutely new levels, it brought us to almost burnout last year to develop and innovate in a way to be competitive on track. And here we go, we have made a substantial jump in performance from 2019 to 2020 because we needed to last year. And that is a little bit ironic for me.”
365体育投注APPTherefore after complying with the Technical Directive Ferrari suffered a huge power drop-off, while conversely their engine prowess through 2019 prompted Mercedes to work to make a giant leap. Ferrari’s customers, Alfa Romeo and Haas, have also suffered a loss of pace, with this more prominent in qualifying. This all came after the much-discussed private settlement reached between the FIA and Ferrari in February.
On a medium-term basis the regulatory stability for 2021 does not augur well for Ferrari while longer-term Formula 1 teams are looking at 2022 and beyond for the next set of rules. Ferrari dropped the ball at the last major overhauls in 2009 and 2014 and for years has had an advantage over its opponents, whether financially or politically. Given greater equality for 2022, and the likes of Racing Point, McLaren and Renault all regarding it as a clean sheet, would anyone seriously bet on Ferrari – this Ferrari – to get it right? It would be a bold call.
365体育投注APP“I think patience will be required,” said Binotto. “As I said before, we need to improve all the areas, it’s not something that a simple trick will address it, or a simple solution. It will take time. How long? I don’t have the answer yet.
What about Red Bull?
It may seem harsh criticising Red Bull. After all, the team is second in the championship and without Mercedes on the grid we would be discussing a week in which it claimed a 1-2 finish and pulled off a stunning recovery to secure back-to-back wins for Verstappen. But Mercedes is there. And Red Bull is some way off. Engine partner Honda has made good gains, albeit not to the extent of Mercedes, but it is in a relatively good position, with Verstappen stating the team “clearly has more power” [than in 2019], therefore shifting the focus to the RB16’s chassis. In Hungary through practice it appeared that Verstappen was wrestling the RB16 to try and extract time it did not possess, while conversely a more cautious Alexander Albon looked ill at ease trying to extract the time it did possess. Mid-corner spins are still prominent, and have been since testing, while Albon was dearly struggling at slow speed.
“We just don’t have a good balance throughout the corner, understeer/oversteer, lack of grip – not having a lot of top speed as well, so everything together just makes it slow,” said Verstappen on the RB16 after qualifying only seventh. The tendency for the RB16 to look edgy on the limit had been repeatedly played down, as far back as Barcelona testing in February, but on Saturday Verstappen performed an off-track 180 as well. “I have been spinning before, it’s not like it happens only this weekend,” he said. “Clearly, so far this year it’s not been the easiest car to drive. The car is never the easiest car to drive because if you drive it on the limit, it’s always going to be easy to spin or lock up because otherwise you’re not pushing, but clearly this one as soon as you get to that point where you are close to having a moment, it just goes and it’s not easy to catch.”
365体育投注APPRed Bull has brought updates but according to Verstappen “clearly something is wrong still, we’re still looking into it”, meaning that it is still playing catch-up against a rival that holds a substantial advantage and is continuing to pull clear. Pre-season assertions that it had its strongest winter in the hybrid era, and felt it was as well-placed as ever to dethrone Mercedes, now look wide of the mark.
“I think we have got something misbehaving aerodynamically and it is a matter of understanding that and addressing that,” said team boss Christian Horner. “In certain conditions, the car is behaving as expected and we actually have some very good data from this weekend, so the team will work hard to try and understand it and resolve it as quickly as we can.”
The Albon factor
Albon is highly-rated by his peers – ask the likes of George Russell and Charles Leclerc and they will immediately sing his praises – but his performances in 2020 have come under scrutiny. There have been high points since he joined Red Bull mid-2019: his aggressive overtaking moves have caught the eye, while he has shown pace on off-set strategies, but overall he has lacked pace compared to Verstappen. In Austria the Q3 gap was 0.391s in the dry and 0.522s in the wet (with both erring in Q3) while in the Q2 session in Hungary, from which Albon failed to progress, the deficit was 0.739s. But Red Bull has leapt to Albon’s defence.
365体育投注APP“The car spec has been changing a lot from session to session and when you don’t have the experience that is harder to deal with,” said Horner. “In the race he was able to find his rhythm, his pace was very good and comparable with Max. He’s had a tough start to the year and we haven’t given him a car that has suited him. Max’s ability to drive around problems sometimes masks them and I actually think Alex has driven very well in the races this year. He’s done a great job and I struggle to understand any criticism of him that you guys may have.”
Albon’s Q2 exit and fifth in Hungary came a year after another subdued run for Pierre Gasly ended his tenure at Red Bull after only 12 races. There have been parallels drawn between their respective situations that suggests the problem of a lack of pace cannot be solely attributed to the man in the cockpit, especially given how quickly Gasly slipped back into life at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri.
“I don’t know Alex’s situation,” said Gasly at the weekend. “I know my situation and how it was in Red Bull and as I say I have the explanations why it didn’t work and I don’t know on Alex, I don’t know what’s happening for him at the moment so whether it is the same thing that I was in… It’s really tough. I may have some explanations but to be fair, I don’t really don’t even want to pay so much attention to that but because I don’t know actually I’m not there and I don’t know the reasons.”
365体育投注APPIt is clear that Albon, and previously Gasly, are far more competent than the pure results would suggest.
The champions keep going
The mere fact that Ferrari and Red Bull’s displays are being critiqued is because at the front of Formula 1 there is a team operating on an extraordinarily high platform. It has won the last six titles and is on a run of 20 victories in the last 26 grands prix. Mercedes is 3-0 against its competitors but it won’t be long before that turns into a tennis or rugby score line. Lewis Hamilton would be weaker without the team, and the team would be weaker without Lewis Hamilton, but together they are the most potent force Formula 1 has ever seen. Given their advantage over the rest it would be a shock if they don’t keep up the winning streak over the summer and autumn, as he edges ever closer to Michael Schumacher’s record tally. But retaining its current attitude, and not resting on those laurels, is a crucial component as to why it is such a well-oiled winning machine.
“The gaps are nothing,” asserted Wolff. “If you look at the drivers’ points standings, it’s 30 points after three races that we have with Lewis to Max, so you have one DNF, and the gap is gone. You just need to keep going.
“[Success] is never one thing, if it is the aerodynamic concept right, or was the engine development done with the right strategies. It’s a multitude of points that come together, different aspects coming together, it’s the investment in the right resource, it’s the amount of innovation that we’re able to extract from our research and development. Fundamentally it all comes down to the people that are in charge.
“We have seen over the years that generation after generation have come up, have taken responsibility and accountability and have added to the team’s performance, and it is not only on the engineering side which we talk all the time, but it’s in every single area. It’s marketing, it’s communications, it’s social media, it’s sponsorship, and this is what makes the team more successful I believe. Nevertheless, we mustn’t be carried away with thinking that we are the greatest, because then you start quickly losing.”