Despite not being able to stop main title rivals Mercedes AMG PETRONAS from taking victory so far this season, Scuderia Ferrari feel they are not far off achieving that feat, believing they are now just one tenth off the pace of the current World champions.
Speaking to motorsport.com, Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene, confirmed the SF16-H was unable to show its true potential at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix, due to an ambitious qualifying strategy which saw Sebastian Vettel mess up a one lap bid for pole, and the start line incident between the Ferrari drivers that saw the German collide with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
“In qualifying we could target pole position. With our calculation we believed we were one tenth behind Mercedes, which is a margin that with a final push from the drivers could even be reduced to zero. But it didn’t happen.
“Both Seb and Kimi are working hard, they are regularly in Maranello and they are spending a lot of time with their engineers.
“In qualifying there were mistakes, but in the race they did well. I also saw a great thing from Seb – who in the pits passed two cars. He demonstrates why his salary is higher than that of Carlos Sainz.”
An odd dig at Carlos Sainz perhaps, but nonetheless the words of a man in a positive frame of mind. The Italian clearly believes they now have a car to take on the might of Mercedes, after three years of clear dominance from the German marque, and does not want reliability issues and mistakes to stop the Maranello based squad from achieving that goal.
“The car is very good. When last year we planned work for 2016, we had two choices: give precedence to reliability or to performance.
“In our case, the imperative was to make up ground to Mercedes, so we chose the second option. Mercedes could instead focus more on reliability having already a good performance. But obviously we knew we took some risk by focusing on pure performance.”
“In China it was important to find reliability, and on this front we breathed a sigh of relief. It was an important step, because I believe that in terms of performance we improved a lot. This Mercedes is the strongest team seen in the last ten years of the world championship, and to beat them you need to take some risks.”
Although updates will be readily available to the squad throughout the 2016 Formula One World Championship, Arrivabene has stressed that they will take their time in implementing them, whilst they are still learning about their new package.
“There will be something [for Sochi], but nothing of great importance. We decided long ago the philosophy of a gradual development, because when you start a season with a whole new project, it makes no sense to bring revolutionary packages.
“We have to work step-by-step, learning about the car and working on the points that are identified as improvable. If you make big jumps you risk losing direction.”
“Even for the engine development we have chosen the same philosophy that we apply to the car. Of course we will spend some tokens on performance, but gradually.”
The main cause of Ferrari’s inability to catch Mercedes so far this season has been unreliability, with technical issues ending Raikkonen’s efforts during the Australian Grand Prix, and Vettel’s engine blow-out in Bahrain resulting in the German being unable to even make it to the starting grid. The race at the Shanghai International Circuit last weekend, was the first time both Ferrari cars have seen the chequered flag, and even then an error cost them the chance of competing for the win. It is moments like the first lap incident on Sunday that Ferrari need to eradicate if they are ever going to pose a real threat to Mercedes.
The pace and speed do now appear to be there, with the Maranello based squad showing great promise through the early parts of a race weekend, but they now have to dig deep and bring the performance to the table when it counts – on race day, and with flawless precision.