Sport

Can Ferrari stop the two-horse race?

2019-05-12 09:34

When Ferrari left Barcelona after preseason testing a few weeks ago, they were optimistic about finally being able to challenge Mercedes for the Formula 1 championship.

The Italian marque team left the opposition chasing shadows as Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc showed a speed that the others simply could not match.

But what a difference a few weeks makes.

Heading into today’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Mercedes can look back at four one-two finishes from the opening four races, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sharing the spoils with two wins each.

And there is little to suggest that their dominance will end any time soon, let alone today at the first race of the season in Europe.

Vettel, who is third in the championship standings – albeit already 35 points off the pace – and who secured a third-place finish in the last race in Azerbaijan, said it would not be easy for Ferrari in Spain.

“The past four races, on average, we were not quite there,” said Vettel.

“So I think we are not the favourites going to Barcelona.”

Unsurprisingly, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is having none of it.

“The results seem to paint a relatively clear picture, but the truth is that they are too flattering,” he said.

“The performance has fluctuated in the first four races. Our opponents were blisteringly quick in winter testing, so the Spanish Grand Prix will be anything but easy.”

Sebastian Vettel

The race sees the drivers needing to navigate a 4.655km track that has long straights and tough corners, which can make overtaking difficult.

As the track is used for winter training, the drivers know it well. It is a circuit that has seen Ferrari dominate, claiming eight victories – but the fact that five of those belonged to Michael Schumacher is an indication of how long ago that was.

Fernando Alonso was the last winner for the Scuderia – back in 2013.

Another popular winner in Barcelona was Max Verstappen, who, in 2016, became the youngest Formula One winner when he took first place at just 18 years, seven months and 15 days old.

The Red Bull driver is sandwiched between Vettel and Leclerc in fourth place in the drivers’ championship, but will need a huge turn of events if he is to repeat his 2016 victory.

“It is always a special one for me,” said Verstappen.

“The temperatures will be a bit different [to testing in March] and everyone is bringing new parts to their cars, so it will be interesting to see how competitive we can be.”

In the absence of any real challenges to Mercedes – unless Ferrari can finally deliver what they promised during winter testing in Barcelona – fans may have to again look towards the two Mercedes drivers battling it out.

Bottas leads the standings by the single point that he received for having the fastest lap of the race in the season opener in Australia.

Hamilton, who famously crashed into his then team-mate Nico Rosberg during the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, paid tribute to Bottas ahead of the race.

“Valtteri has really clearly stepped up this year and is happy in the car, and he’s really delivering and driving fantastically,” said Hamilton.

“It’s going to take some really great performances from both of us to outperform each other. And that’s how it should be.”

As it is the first race since the 25- year anniversary of the death of superstar Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix, a number of commemorative events have been planned.

The Brazilian died in a crash at Imola – a day after Austrian Roland Ratzenberger died during training for the same race. The race winner of today’s grand prix will be given a half-Brazilian and half-Austrian flag to take to the podium in memory of the two perished drivers. A life-size bronze statue of three-time world champion Senna will also be displayed.

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June 16 2019