Ferrari have targeted their first Formula One title in a decade after dominating testing in Barcelona last week.
But can the Italian marque finally overcome Mercedes and lift the title? Niall McCague, Tom Biggs and Stuart Appleby discuss whether it’s a two-horse race between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, what the Pracing Horse need to do to win the constructors’ title and what impact Kimi Raikkonen could have.
Agree or disagree with our writers? Let us know as they go head-to-head in our new-look three question debate.
Is it a two-horse race between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton?
NM: Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel will go into the new season as the overwhelming favourite to win the title, but with the new cars set to shake up the grid, fans will be hoping to see the likes of Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen challenging for glory. Although some drivers have shown improvements, it’s difficult to see anyone else but Hamilton or Vettel seal the drivers title – both of whom are chasing an impressive fifth crown.
TB: Come the end of testing, the question wasn’t whether Ferrari had closed the gap on Mercedes, but whether Red Bull were closest to the world champions. Vettel may have set an unofficial lap record in Barcelona, but had very little to say, perhaps the biggest indication he’s not completely happy. Hamilton, meanwhile, told reporters “last year’s car was great, but this car feels better.” The outlook is ominous for his rivals – this could be a one-horse race.
SA: Yes, it’s all a bit too predictable. Hamilton is without doubt the out-and-out favourite to claim his fifth world title, with successful testing in Catalonia going to show Mercedes should be even quicker this term. The Briton is unfazed by Vettel’s preseason pace and it’s that single mindedness which underpins the 33-year-old’s desire to triumph again. Vettel and Ferrari are primed for second but won’t have the staying power to top the charts.
What do Ferrari need to do to win the constructors’ championship?
NM: Although Ferrari ran Mercedes close last season before unreliability scuppered Vettel’s championship bid, the last of their 31 title victories was back in 2008. If the Prancing Horse are to win the constructors’ title this season they need Vettel and Raikkonen to be on the podium in nearly every race. Whether they have the pace and consistency to challenge Mercedes remains to be seen, but Ferrari need both drivers to push harder in a bid to score more points.
TB: Last year, Vettel made a stunning start to the season, finishing in the top two in all of the first six races. But while Mercedes were working away to improve their car, Ferrari stalled, allowing their rivals to steal a march from Silverstone onwards. Improved reliability will also be required if Ferrari are to end Mercedes’ supreme dominance. Four retirements and a did not start proved much too costly up against the everreliable Silver Arrows.
SA: The Italian team have got people talking about their new SF-71H car, its speed and endurance on the track, which can only be a good thing. Vettel’s fastest lap and longevity in Spain definitely boosted confidence – giving Ferrari some early season belief. Whether they have the power to trouble Mercedes consistently is up for debate but Vettel needs to use his experience to hang in the title picture as long as possible.
Is Kimi Raikkonen prepared to simply aid Ferrari and Vettel’s championship bids?
NM: There’s no doubting his popularity, but the 2007 world champion has done little to warrant a seat for Ferrari due to his inconsistency over the past few seasons. The Finn may have set an unofficial lap record at testing in Barcelona last week, but has failed to win since the Australian GP in 2013. Seven podiums in 2017 may show some improvements, but for as long as Raikkonen is with Ferrari, they will struggle to have a driver to help Vettel win.
TB: While Vettel put up a gallant fight, his teammate seemed to accept he was well off the pace in 2017 and did little to try and change that. For Ferrari to stop Mercedes, they’ll need Raikkonen to accept his place in the team, while also altering his outlook and attitude, with more podiums and support for Vettel a necessity. The problem is, he seems to have lost the nous to halt Mercedes, unlike the German. He could well hinder their hopes.
SA: The veteran Finn may have finished testing with a bang but will want to go about 2018 on his own terms, given there’s speculation it will be his last campaign. Both he and Ferrari are looking to the future, but given the Ice Man enjoys a good relationship with Vettel, he will be prepared to play second fiddle again and help the team. Raikkonen is a man of few words but the fact he’s content with the car’s performance so far is a good sign.
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