Ferrari has endured a nightmare September. After being trounced by Mercedes at Monza, the first-lap clash in Singapore between Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, marked the first time in Formula 1 history that both Ferrari’s have been eliminated from a Grand Prix on the opening lap.
In Malaysia, the Scuderia seemed to be out of the woods. Friday saw Vettel and Raikkonen top the timesheets, while also posting impressive times during long runs. It seemed certain that Vettel would seize pole position and reduce his points arrears with a win on Sunday. A turbo fault in FP3 before power unit gremlins in qualifying served to derail his weekend by condemning him to the back of the grid.
In the meantime, victories in Italy and Singapore – followed by a second place finish in Malaysia – have allowed Lewis Hamilton to steal a march towards the 2017 drivers’ championship title. He now leads Vettel by 34 points with a maximum 125 points still up for grabs.
September has been bleak for Ferrari. However, positives have emerged from the gloom and Vettel can still enter the final five races with an air of optimism regarding his title aspirations.
Image Credit: Clive Mason (Getty)
The Singapore Grand Prix has a habit of injecting fresh jeopardy into a title battle. Be it Felipe Massa driving off with his fuel hose still attached during Formula 1’s first-ever night race in 2008 – or Nico Rosberg’s faulty wiring loom that led to terminal clutch issues in 2016 – Singapore has the potential to turn a championship fight on its head.
Should 2017 championship leader Lewis Hamilton be crowned a four-time world champion in November, Sebastian Vettel’s dramatic first-lap elimination in Singapore will be looked upon as a season-defining moment.
Now trailing Hamilton by 28-points with just six races remaining, Vettel unquestionably finds himself hugely compromised. However, this is a title battle that is still far from declaring a winner.
Credit: Lars Baton (Getty)
In what has become an annual news event, Kimi Raikkonen has once again been retained by Ferrari for another season, as the Italian team announced on Tuesday that the 2007 world champion has earned another contract extension.
Not bad for a driver labeled a “laggard” by his boss and Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne earlier this year.
Regardless of this brutally blunt assessment, Raikkonen’s re-signing makes sense for a Ferrari team with plenty to ponder in their immediate future.
After a thrilling first three races, the 2017 picture is beginning to form. A heavyweight title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – two of the greatest drivers of their generation – seems set to be this year’s pre-eminent storyline.
However, this Mercedes versus Ferrari duel has four key cast members. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen will both hope to wade in on the title fight, yet on the basis of the first three chapters, are likely to play number two roles in their respective teams.
Both, however, will be determined to avoid becoming supporting players. In this regard, Raikkonen seems to have more work to do than Bottas, after the latter claimed a maiden pole in Bahrain and has already claimed two podium finishes this year.
It could even be argued that for Raikkonen, aspirations of 2017 championship glory are already ebbing away and as a result, his season is about the supporting role he needs to play for teammate Vettel.
Things change quickly in the world’s fastest sport. Be it the height of rear wings following a regulation change or a driver’s form, it doesn’t take long for F1’s tectonic plates to shift. Four years ago today, Kimi Raikkonen secured his 20th career race win and second on his return to the sport.
Winning the first race of the season is historically an indication of imminent championship glory. In the previous ten curtain raisers, ten of the victors went on to lift the Drivers’ crown come season’s end.
Despite other podium appearances, his Australian Grand Prix triumph was the highlight of Raikkonen’s 2013 campaign. You could even go as far as saying that the Finn has failed to secure any headline results since.
Pre-season testing is always a great way of generating narratives. After all, this is the most unpredictable period of the season, where fans and teams can dare to dream. With the pecking order not yet established and everyone starting from zero, optimism is the prevailing emotion.
2017 testing has certainly given neutrals something to be optimistic about. Ferrari have exploded out of the blocks, proving both reliable and quick in Barcelona. Their pre-season form would suggest that a title tilt for either Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen is absolutely possible this season.
However, with Ferrari being the kings of the ‘false dawn,’ and the Mercedes juggernaut historically being rather passive in testing before arriving with a spaceship when it matters in Melbourne, are Ferrari really a match for the champions this season?
Next stop, Melbourne. Today marked the final day of pre-season testing, with drivers and teams anxious to clock the final few miles and gather as much data as possible to kickstart their 2017 campaigns. FP1 in Australia will be the next opportunity for evaluation.
Ferrari was once again top of the pile today, as Kimi Raikkonen further cemented the notion that the Scuderia could be set to right the wrongs of 2016 this year. We waited all afternoon for a Mercedes response, but it never came. We will have to wait until Melbourne to know if Ferrari has indeed done enough this winter to overhaul the Mercedes juggernaut.
Here are FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED on the final day of pre-season testing…