Formula 1Season Review

2016 Season Review: Scuderia Ferrari – Promise unfulfilled, Pressure intensifies

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen took eleven podiums between them in 2016 - Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

#5 – Sebastian Vettel – Germany – 20 Starts (1 Did Not Start – Bahrain), 212 Points, Best Finish: 2nd (China, Canada, Europe), Championship Position: 4th

#7 – Kimi Raikkonen – Finland – 21 Starts, 186 Points, Best Finish: 2nd (Bahrain, Spain), Championship Position: 6th

The first lap of the 2016 Formula 1 Season saw Sebastian Vettel lead Kimi Raikkonen, but their Scuderia Ferrari outfit failed to take a race victory throughout the season, as a combination of strategy mistakes and on and off-track woes cost them.

On at least three occasions, Vettel in particular could and should have taken the race win, with the first of those coming in that opening race of the year around the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, while opportunities also arose in Canada and Austria.

A strategy call to put the German onto the Supersoft tyre after the red flag period to clear up Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez’s crash rather than the Medium’s that the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team used with both it’s drivers relegated Vettel to third behind Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at the chequered flag as he was required to make an additional pit stop. Raikkonen ran second early on but his race came to an end with a turbo issue, meaning a day that began with promise ended in disappointment for both drivers.

Sebastian Vettel led lap one of the season but failed to win a race – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

With the disappointment of losing the podium in Australia, Ferrari headed into the Bahrain Grand Prix looking to make amends, but race day in the desert didn’t start well with Vettel pulling off track on the formation lap with a smoking engine, preventing him from starting from his third place on the grid. Raikkonen on the other hand managed to finish second, splitting the two Mercedes drivers for his first points of the year after a spirited drive that saw him pass both Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas on track.

Their season took another downturn at the opening turn of the Chinese Grand Prix when Vettel and Raikkonen collided as the former attempted to avoid Daniil Kvyat on the inside and causing the latter to pit for a new front wing. Vettel was able to recover to take second place, criticising Kvyat as they got ready to go onto the podium, while Raikkonen took fifth despite his early visit to the pit lane.

And then onto Sochi, and Kvyat was in Vettel’s criticism once more as the Russian tapped him not once but twice in the opening sequence of turns, with the second collision spinning the German into the barriers and out of the race. It would have a drastic effect on Kvyat’s Red Bull Racing career, but it meant that Vettel had scored only twice in the opening four rounds of the season, while Raikkonen, who ran second early before losing that position to Hamilton, completed the podium.

Following the two Mercedes drivers colliding on the opening lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari and Red Bull fought out for the victory, but despite their best efforts, Raikkonen could only take second and Vettel third, with the Finn unable to get passed Max Verstappen, who had taken the Red Bull ride away from Kvyat, while Vettel repelled an attack from Ricciardo before the Australian dropped away after a puncture caused an additional trip to the pits.

Kimi Raikkonen had a bubbling rivalry with Max Verstappen in 2016 – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Monaco was a disappointing affair, with Raikkonen crashing out after just ten laps in tricky conditions after hitting the barriers at the Loews hairpin and subsequently stopping a few corners later with his front wing lodged under his car, while Vettel trailed behind Sergio Perez in fourth having lost ground to the Sahara Force India F1 Team racer in the pit stops having made his stop a lap later than the Mexican.

The strategy calls were questioned once more in the Canadian Grand Prix when Vettel once again found himself in the lead only to make an extra pit stop compared to Hamilton and fall short as he attempted to recover the ground, but he did equal his best finish of the season in second, but Raikkonen could only finish down in sixth.

Vettel finished in the same position in Formula 1’s first venture to Azerbaijan for the European Grand Prix but had no response to Rosberg’s pace out front, but Raikkonen lost a podium finish in the closing stages to Perez, not withstanding that the Finn had a time penalty hanging over him after cutting the pit entry line while attempting an overtake, something the stewards deemed dangerous. Raikkonen also suffered with the strict radio rules that prevented his team from telling him what was wrong with his car as he suffered being in the wrong engine mode during the race.

The Austrian Grand Prix saw Vettel lead after going long on his Supersoft tyres, but the German saw his race end in spectacular fashion when his right rear Pirelli tyre exploded down the pit straight, pitching him into the barriers and causing a safety car. Vettel was critical about Pirelli post race, feeling the tyres were unsafe, but the tyre manufacturer said debris caused the puncture and there was no underlying issue with the compound.

Raikkonen on the other hand was embroiled in another battle with his nemesis Verstappen, but again was forced to follow the Dutchman to the chequered flag, although both were able to pass the ailing Rosberg on the final lap as the German nursed his car home following his high profile clash at turn two with team-mate Hamilton.

It was a lacklustre day for both cars when Formula 1 arrived at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, with Raikkonen fifth and Vettel ninth at the chequered flag, with the latter taking a five second penalty for pushing Felipe Massa off the track, while it was not much better at the Hungaroring, when Vettel and Raikkonen were fourth and sixth respectively, both finishing on the tail of a Red Bull.

The last race before the summer break was also one to forget for Ferrari, with Vettel and Raikkonen finished fifth and sixth respectively in the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring, but more than half a minute down on race winner Hamilton.

Kimi Raikkonen took four podiums in 2016, but his last came in Austria in July – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Ferrari would have come out of the summer break hopeful of a positive result at Spa-Francorchamps, and having qualified third and fourth on the grid in Belgium, they looked on course that this would have been possible, but race day was a totally different proposition. A robust manoeuvre into the first turn by Verstappen caused a chain reaction that left Vettel facing the wrong way and caused damage to Raikkonen’s front wing, leaving them both with a lot of work to do to get a good result.

Vettel was able to recover to fifth, but Raikkonen trailed home in ninth after another battle with Verstappen, which this time came out in the Finn’s favour despite an apparent dangerous move by the Dutchman as the Finn attempted a pass down the Kemmel Straight.

In front of their home fans at the Italian Grand Prix, Vettel was able to take a well-earned podium finish in third with Raikkonen just behind in fourth, but both were running second and third in the early stages before Hamilton used a superior strategy to jump both red cars to take second.

A gearbox issue during qualifying for Vettel left him starting the Singapore Grand Prix from the back of the grid, but the German played a starring role around a circuit he loves to climb back to fifth at the chequered flag, while Raikkonen was involved in a battle with Hamilton for the final podium position, only to be denied by the Briton undercutting him during the final pit stop cycle.

From a starring role in Singapore, Vettel became the villain of the piece when he hit Rosberg at turn one of the Malaysian Grand Prix, eliminating himself from the race with a broken suspension and earning him a grid penalty for the following Grand Prix in Japan. Raikkonen was on course for a podium but a recovering Rosberg took that position from him with a better strategy call.

The Ferrari’s qualified third and fourth at Suzuka, but a penalty for a gearbox change relegated Raikkonen to eighth, while Vettel’s penalty from Malaysia saw him start sixth, and neither driver were able to stay in contention for a podium on Sunday. Vettel finished twenty seconds down on race winner Rosberg in fourth, while eight seconds further back was Raikkonen in fifth despite both behind ahead of Hamilton in the early stages due to his bad start.

Sebastian Vettel finished fourth in Japan and the United States – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

A podium opportunity was not for the taking either at the United States Grand Prix, with Vettel once again in fourth, but at least he saw the chequered flag as Raikkonen retired from the race following his final pit stop after a wheel failed to be attached properly by his mechanics. The Finn stopped on pit exit before freewheeling down the hill into the pit lane, where he parked up and walked back to his pit.

It looked as though Vettel had taken a podium finish in the Mexican Grand Prix when Verstappen was handed a time penalty for gaining an advantage by running off track as he defended his position from the Ferrari driver, but a penalty of his own for moving under braking whilst defending from Ricciardo demoted him down to fifth. Raikkonen finished sixth, catching and passing Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India in the closing laps at turn four.

Raikkonen was an early casualty in the wet Brazilian Grand Prix, losing control after aquaplaning on the main straight, with his crash causing the officials to red flag the event until conditions improved. Vettel survived his own spin early in the afternoon to finish fifth, finishing just behind Perez after losing fourth to a charging Verstappen, who ultimately finished third, in the closing laps.

Vettel finally took a podium finish, his first since the Italian Grand Prix, in the season closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a strategy gamble gave him fresh tyres in the final stint that enabled him to pass Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Verstappen to take the final spot on the podium, but despite a strong car, he was unable to pass Rosberg for second. Raikkonen ultimately trailed home in sixth, with the Finn finishing in the same position in the championship, while Vettel clinched fourth.

Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth in the championship standings – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

After three wins in Vettel’s first season with the Scuderia, it would be an understatement to say seven podium finishes was not the year he or his team were hoping for, even if team-mate Raikkonen had some kind of renaissance as he showed that the team have two competitive drivers on board.

The team shot themselves in the foot on more than one occasion, with wins sliding by, and it was not a surprise that team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was under pressure towards the end of the year.

Ferrari not only slipped further back from Mercedes in 2016, but also behind Red Bull Racing, who with two young chargers showed Renault had not just caught up with Ferrari on track, but perhaps sneaked ahead. Coupled into the fact the chassis advantage of Red Bull, then there is no wonder that the Milton Keynes-based team won races and the Maranello-based team did not.

Failure is not an option for the team in 2017, and with Vettel showing increasing frustration, it might not just be the backroom staff that move on at the end of next year, they might just be looking for a new driver pairing.

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Thirty-something motorsport fanatic, covering Formula 1, Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3. Feel free to give him a follow on Twitter at @Paul11MSport.
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