The hope of most F1 fans for 2016 is that Ferrari will be competitive and challenge Mercedes in 2016, yet the evidence for this optimism may appear thin following the 2015 Mexican GP. This was the first race since 2006 when neither Ferrari car was classified at the finish.
Kimi Raikkonen is currently driving like a rookie and has racked up three DNF’s in the past three races, all of which can be put down to driver error. In Russia he T-boned third place Valtteri Bottas on the final lap – a move which saw the younger of the Finn’s retire and Kimi receive a 30 second penalty post the chequered flag.
At the US GP in Austin, Raikkonen put his car into the wall following a switch from wet tyres to slicks and admitted to being guilty of pushing too hard on an out lap.
Following Vettel’s first lap coming together with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo – which the stewards deemed a ‘racing incident’, Kimi was the lead Ferrari driver in Mexico and carrying the flag for the team. Yet again he clumsily collided with his fellow Finn, though unlike in Russia, this time it was Raikkonen who suffered terminal damage. Kimi told Finnish TV after the race that if Bottas ‘continues driving like this, it will damage his career.’
Any hope Kimi will carry the challenge to Mercedes in 2016 appears one of wishful thinking.
So what of Sebastian Vettel? His Mexican GP was a disaster too. He collided with Daniel Ricciardo on lap one – an incident the stewards decided was a ‘racing incident’. This left Seb with a puncture and he limped his way back to the pits, put on the harder prime tyre and proceeded out plumb last.
Then having made his way up to P12 on lap 16, Vettel appeared to lose the car and spin off into a run off area, narrowly avoiding the barrier. The German driver was again third last in the running order.
Both this off and the incident, which saw Vettel, hit the wall to retire from the race on lap 51, raised questions amongst F1 pundits. Suspicions of torque blips like Kimi has suffered earlier this year looked to be possible explanations for Sebastian’s off track excursions.
That said Vettel took it like a man, and accepted responsibility for “a shit weekend”.
However, the key to understanding where Ferrari are in relation to Mercedes was in the laps Sebastian Vettel traded laps with the Merc’s following his second pit stop, which brought him out a lap down behind Nico Rosberg but, between the race leader and Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel was on fresh rubber and the same prime tyre as the Mercedes duo, though his tyres were 9 laps newer than Lewis Hamilton and 11 laps fresher than Rosberg’s. Yet despite putting in one lap, quicker than Hamilton whilst in between the Mercedes and a fastest lap of the race after being forced to allow Lewis through – Vettel’s average lap times during these laps were between 0.3-0.4 slower than the fastest Mercedes.
Vettel then put it into the wall after hanging out with the Merc’s for almost 11 laps.
This gap between Ferrari and Mercedes during this phase of the race was huge, given the brand new tyres Sebastian was running. And it leads to the conclusion that the Scuderia need a very big step forward if their 2016 battle with Mercedes is to be as close as many in the F1 media suggest it will be.