Maranello on the Rise
The 2017 Formula One Championship is a serious 2 horse race for the first time in a long while.
Back on the stampede are Ferrari, a team that has had more than its fair share of setbacks, and Mercedes the dominant team since the 2014 rule change.
With 3 wins a piece, it now comes to race 7 – the Canadian Grand Prix to divide these two teams.
Ferrari lead in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ standing – the points difference coming down to formation breaking races such as Spanish and Monaco Grand Prix, where Mercedes finished outside of the top 4.
Critically, this season dropping 1 or even 2 points is a big deal.
Following Monaco, Mercedes Boss Toto Wolff spoke of his disappointment at the result. The Austrian recounts being asked about his feelings about the race and then being given a swift reality check – “that’s motor sport”.
Those short and sharp remarks encapsulate the changing tide of F1 when it is at its best - you can be on top of the podium one minute and scrambling to see it the next.
It speaks of the cycle that F1 teams must inevitably go through to claim world titles. Two teams that are at opposite sides of this process are McLaren and Ferrari.
During the last great period of Ferrari dominance between 1999 and 2004 it is easy to forget that it was a 21 years drought in Maranello. A couple years into their winning cycle and Ferrari fans were already complaining about the winning - seriously.
Ross Brawn, the man largely credited with transforming the team’s fortunes once received a letter from a Ferrari fan, who accused him of ruining his Sundays. The fans said, “I sit in front of the TV and you win every race.” Celebration of Ferrari wins had lost meaning and become the norm.
Mercedes fans could accuse Wolff of the same with three years of near uninterrupted celebration.
Of course the story is different and Mercedes are still competitive after the rule change, but the strength of the Ferrari come-back, means an adjustment of thinking.
Early on in the season many fans, commentators and pundits would have given the same answer, Hamilton and Mercedes, when asked who would win the title. Even if they wanted a different outcome, it was the logical response or so it seemed.
Now its a toss-up as the internal battles that shrouded Mercedes have been replaced by a far more exciting and imaginative inter-team battle.
Days away from the Canadian Grand Prix and there is a lot to consider. On one hand Hamilton, who has won 5 times in Montreal historically has the advantage, whilst Vettel got the jump on him in 2016.
With unpredictable weather and a 20 percent chance of safety car, opportunity comes from the strategists.
Ironically it was race strategy that summarised Ferrari’s 2016 Canadian campaign.
The team were heavily criticised for calling Vettel into the pits on Lap 13 from the lead. The call meant that the German lost position and eventually the win.
Fast forward to this year and Ferrari are strategically more refined. Just as we can no longer look back at past victories or losses as these two teams enter the arena – the slate is clean.
The upper hand perhaps lays with Ferrari, as the bitterness of last year’s defeat was certainly a learning if not turning point for them and more so than Mercedes countless victories.
In saying this, there is no suggestion of counting out Mercedes, as now with the pain of Monaco fresh in mind, Wolff and his team will work hard to stall the continued rise of Maranello.