Can Sebastian Vettel compete for the world championship this year?
Ferrari is playing down their chances of beating the Mercedes, and on the face of it Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix showed why: Vettel qualified the best part of a second behind the silver cars and followed them home in the race as well.
But while Ferrari clearly don’t have a car which can rival the Mercedes over a single flying lap on Saturday, the SF-15T’s race performance is clearly a strong suit.
Heat to help Ferrari in Bahrain
In cool conditions which didn’t play to the car’s strengths, Vettel was close enough to the Mercedes in the first half of the race that the team considered him a serious threat for victory. It was only after the final pit stops, when the teams switched to using the harder compound tyres, that he dropped back.
Vettel’s Malaysian Grand Prix victory showed Ferrari has the potential to win races this year. And following a difficult 2014 the four-times world champion is back on top form. Three races in he has three podium finishes to his name and sits ahead of one Mercedes driver in the points standings and 13 points adrift of the other – Sunday’s race winner Lewis Hamilton.
But to really appreciate how god a job Vettel has done since traded blue overalls for red, compare him to his team mate. Kimi Raikkonen, who won the championship in the year Vettel made his F1 debut, has through a combination of poor luck and poor qualifying amassed less than half of Vettel’s points tally so far.
Will this weekend’s race supply the hotter conditions the Ferrari favours? It certainly should as it’s being held in the Bahraini desert. Since last year this round of the championship is being held at night under lights so the temperatures are not quite as punishing, but they will still be among some of the hottest of the year, where they will again use the soft tyre which Ferrari used so well in China.
Unibet is offering odds of seven to one on Vettel to win the race whereas Raikkonen – who had excellent runs at this track for Lotus in 2012 and 2013 for Lotus is at eleven to one. And if you think either of them can make a championship run it gets even more interesting Vettel is on eight to one while Raikkonen’s odds are far longer at 45 to one.
Ferrari boosting Sauber too
The key to Ferrari’s resurgence this year is their much improved power unit, and that has had a knock-on effect for their engine customer Sauber. Point-less in 2014 for the first time in their 22-year history, new drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Erisson have amassed 19 between them so far, putting Sauber fourth in the constructors’ championship.
The promising Nasr has taken most of them, starting with an excellent fifth in Australia, which makes the offer of 14 to one on team mate Ericsson finishing in the top ten in Bahrain all the more enticing.
But as ever the same can’t be said for the flying Mercedes cars. Hamilton is 1.40 to take pole position, Rosberg 2.85, and they are heavy favourites in the race as well at 1.45 and 3.30 respectively. Last year the pair duked it out in a thrilling fight for supremacy in Bahrain in which they repeatedly came close to colliding. Their rivals’ best hope is one of them will go a step too far this time.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic