With 17 races still to go in the Formula 1 season, the championship is already over.
Okay that’s a little facetious but it is difficult to see how Ferrari can make this is a genuine battle.
Mercedes have recorded four successive one-two finishes in the first four races and look high on pace and confidence. At this early stage of the season, the points table makes for difficult viewing, with Ferrari trailing their rivals by 74-points in the constructors’ championship.
Twelve months ago, Sebastian Vettel held a nine-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers standings. This time around the German trails the five-time world champion by 34-points.
The Prancing Horse looked the team to beat at pre-season testing in Barcelona, with a beautiful, well-balanced machine. But in the season opener in Melbourne they could not match Mercedes’ searing pace.
In Bahrain, Charles Leclerc led for most of the race but a mechanical issue late on denied him victory. Had the Monaco man won, there could be a different feeling around Maranello.
Positivity did increase for Ferrari after the Gulf race, but they were average in China, where Mercedes sealed another one-two by a considerable distance.
Fastest for a large sections of the weekend in Baku, Leclerc crashed during Q2 and was forced to start from eighth on the grid – he gained two places after penalties to Kimi Raikkonen and Pierre Gasly.
Without him clocking a time in Q3, it’s hard to determine how much quicker he could have been if he was to start higher up the grid.
The 21-year-old did hold the lead for a brief stint during Sunday’s race, but Ferrari kept him out on the mediums for too long, and he subsequently lost eight seconds in the space of five laps before being called in to pit on lap 35.
Returning out on fresh softs, he had problems with getting the tyres in the correct temperature window and was unable to challenge Max Verstappen for fourth place. Another poor strategy call by the Italian marque?
But even aside from Leclerc’s mistake in qualifying on Saturday, one significant positive is that he has proven to be a real threat to his team-mate Vettel, paling a vast contrast to previous years when Raikkonen seemed content to play second fiddle to the German’s prospects.
It might not fully come together for Leclerc this year, but he looks a future world champion in the making. He just needs time and experience to adjust to being a central figure in one of the top teams.
Based on form and pace in the opening races, team boss Mattia Binotto should make it a level-playing field for both drivers instead of favouritism towards Vettel. Leclerc had to agree to team orders in the first three rounds and had his race ruined in Baku due to the team’s decision to leave him out for too long on the medium tyres.
Vettel, though, is not a four-time world champion for nothing and probably is the team’s best chance to win a world title at the moment. But the Heppenheim native is struggling to show consistent pace in qualifying this season – apart from clocking the second fastest time in Q3 in Bahrain.
Even if we are only one fifth of the way through the season, the feeling now is Vettel is out of the title picture, Leclerc requires more experience and Ferrari out of the constructors’ championship. A shame really after such confidence in the car coming into the new season.
Ferrari need to bounce back next weekend in Barcelona or they will be edging towards crisis point. Binotto insists he knows what the issues are with the car but it is going to take time for the package to fully flourish.
A year that was expected to be a thrilling duel between the two top teams now looks like a one-sided season with little excitement.
Let’s hope for reverse fortunes in Spain for one of F1’s most famous outfits.
Sebastian Vettel has warned Ferrari to raise their game in order to stop Lewis Hamilton from running away with the championship.
Vettel lost further ground in the title race after Valtteri Bottas led Hamilton home in Azerbaijan for a record fourth one-two finish from the opening four rounds for the Silver Arrows.
The German, whose winless streak now extends to beyond eight months, will head back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time 35 points off the championship summit.
Ferrari meanwhile are already 74 points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ standings.
Responding to Hamilton, who said Ferrari need to improve in order to take the fight to Mercedes this season, Vettel replied: “He is right, we need to pick it up.
Ferrari impressed in winter testing, but after four races, they seem to have no answer for Mercedes.
Although there are 17 rounds still remaining, the Scuderia’s quest to end a decade-long championship drought is facing a stern examination.
“You need the confidence in the car, and I am not yet there with it,” added Vettel.
“I feel like I am not driving at my best because the car doesn’t answer or respond the way I like.”
Vettel’s junior team-mate Leclerc dominated in practice for Ferrari here but threw away his chances of a maiden victory by stuffing his car into the barriers during qualifying.
He led the race for 20 laps, by virtue of being on a different strategy to the leaders, before taking the chequered flag in fifth.
“I made a mistake on Saturday, but I will come back from it stronger,” he said.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Valtteri Bottas held off Lewis Hamilton to win in Azerbaijan and take the lead of the Formula One world championship.
Bottas started from pole position and kept Hamilton at bay as the Mercedes duo went wheel-to-wheel through the opening three bends.
Hamilton attempted a late charge for victory, but Bottas had enough in his pocket to take the chequered flag and move one point clear of the Brit in the title standings.
Sebastian Vettel finished third, with Max Verstappen crossed the line in fourth. Charles Leclerc started eighth after he crashed out of qualifying and the Ferrari junior, on a different strategy to the front runners, finished fifth.
Here’s our main talking points from the race.
The Flying Finn produced a solid display to record his second victory of the season and retake the championship lead.
It was a deserved win for Bottas and redemption for last season after he was forced to retire in Baku when leading towards the end of the race.
Starting from pole, the 29-year-old was consistent, made no mistakes and pushed hard when Hamilton was within DRS range late in the race.
If Bottas can continue the fight in Barcelona in two weeks time, it’ll be game on in the title battle.
It may be a tall order to compete consistently across the season but his latest result shows he might finally be considered a championship contender.
There is a harder edge to him this year and he looks equipped to respond to Hamilton’s challenge at every opportunity.
PLENTY OF TIME FOR HAMILTON TO SHINE
Hamilton pushed his Mercedes team-mate hard throughout the race, with only 1.5 seconds separating them in the end – and Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari a further 11 seconds behind in third.
The Briton was expected to romp to a third victory of the season but a combination of Bottas’s searing pace and a virtual safety car with ten laps remaining saw him settle for second.
As much as second may disappoint the five-time world champion, it’s still a stunning start to the campaign for him, with two wins and two second-place finishes.
And with 17 races remaining in the season, the pendulum is no doubt going to swing in different ways, with the 34-year-old always proving he can come out on top when the pressure is on.
POOR STRATEGY CALL FOR LECLERC?
The deserved Driver of the Day.
Fastest all weekend, Leclerc was forced to start from eighth after crashing in Q2. He had tricky start on Sunday and dropped two places before weaving his way back up.
He even held the lead for a brief stint while Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel pitted, and looked high on confidence and pace.
But if there is one criticism, it’s that his team should have pitted him at lap 30 instead of 35. It was simply too long to leave a driver out without fresh tyres. He lost eight seconds in those five laps. When he was called in to the pits, he was third, and subsequently returned back out in sixth.
Races are won on strategy and not on engine power. When he came out of the pits in sixth, he failed to make an impact and finished behind Max Verstappen in fifth.
Another poor strategy call for the Prancing Horse?
A stunning result for McLaren.
Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris capitalised on the McLaren’s pace around the Baku street circuit to finish seventh and eighth respectively – the best team result for the Woking-based outfit since Baku last year.
Sainz and Norris looked consistent throughout the race and the car showed strong pace and balance to remain ahead of Force India and Haas.
The duo showed once again that they have the potential to threaten the other midfield teams, especially in the European races.
Their 10 points scooped from two top-10 finishes in Azerbaijan means McLaren are now fourth in the constructors’ championship – one point ahead of Racing Point.
MORE MISERY FOR RICCIARDO
The Australian was the first driver to retire from the race, reversing into Daniil Kvyat in the run-off area on lap 34.
He attempted to overtake Kvyat on the turn and they both went off the track, with Ricciardo committing an error which forced his retirement for the third time in four races.
It’s a poor start to the season for the 29-year-old, a driver who was expected to secure strong finishes on a consistent basis for his new team. None of which we have seen yet.
Ricciardo may have been a class act in the pacey Red Bull, but now it’s beginning to look like his decision to join Renault was a bad career move for such a talented driver.