Despite having the fastest car over the last two race weekends, Ferrari is trailing Mercedes by 10 points while Sebastian Vettel is 24 points off the championship leader Lewis Hamilton. However, with nine races to go in the 2018 Championship, both titles are on the table.
After four years of Mercedes’ humiliating dominance, Ferrari turned up the music for this year, producing a car which can take on the fight with the field-leading, standard- and pace-setting car of the Anglo-German team.
Despite to the good speed on every track, Ferrari is lagging behind Mercedes following two unfortunate race weekends. Both at Hockenheim and at Hungaroring, Ferrari appeared to have the better pace. However, Sebastian Vettel, stealing the pole with a lap record and controlling the race both in the dry and wet phase, ruined his chances by blocking his tyres and sending his Ferrari into the barriers at the Sachs curve in the dying minutes of German Grand Prix. That mistake proved to be costly as Lewis Hamilton managed to win the race after starting the from 14th on the grid, having induced a hydraulic leak on his car by violently riding the kerbs at Turn 1.
At the Hungaroring, Ferrari intended to put the German GP behind them. The Maranello-based squad was on course to bounce back with Vettel setting the pace throughout the practice sessions. In the third practice session, the German upped his own track record which he set in the qualifying session for last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix. The quadruple world champion was heading for erasing the bad memories from the Hockenheim race.
However, a quick, but heavy thunderstorm overrode the script Ferrari has wrote for the last race before the field goes silent for its well-deserved summer break. Mercedes, suffering badly on the burning asphalt, locked out the front row for the race. It was particularly Lewis Hamilton who was affected by the overheating issues, the Briton made more mistakes throughout three practice sessions than he usually makes over an entire season. Fearing from high rear tyre degradation, Mercedes set up a plan. To stop the brutally fast Ferraris, Bottas, playing the ‘perfect wingman’ as Toto Wolff said, held up Vettel and Räikkönen so Hamilton could escape and disappear into the distance.
So, on a circuit at which they were struggling, Saturday’s downpours handed Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes a wild card opportunity to control the Hungarian Grand Prix. Vettel paid a heavy price for his mistake in Germany where he was on course for a dominant victory and also paid a heavy price for his extremely terrible luck with the bad weather. At two successive warm weekends, the heavens opened in the worst possible moment for the Ferrari drivers. Despite to Hamilton’s mistake in the qualifying session for the German GP and Mercedes‘ fading pace at the Hockenheimring and the Hungaroring, Hamilton and Mercedes took over the lead.
In Hungary last year, Ferrari took a great one-two to go into the summer break with Vettel leading Hamilton in the championship by 14 points. One year on the roles are very much reversed, with Vettel 24 points off Hamilton as we head towards the shutdown.
Last year, Ferrari were aware that their package was generally inferior to that of Mercedes. While in 2017, Hamilton secured five, Vettel two pole positions, in 2018, the Briton and the German both secured first starting positions on five occassions.
It is probably right to say that Ferrari, for the first time since 2008, has a racing car capable of taking pole positions and wins at every type of track. Sebastian Vettel pins hope on Ferrari’s speed and is relieved that the SF71H has been surprisingly competitive on every circuit so far.
“I am happy to see that the car is fast, it has worked well on every track so far, so I think this is the most important thing. Our car has a big potential, so I feel relaxed, going on holiday, for the races to come.”
As for Ferrari, it’s a tangible sign that all the work on the technical front has paid off. A mix of mistakes, crashes and lost opportunities has led to the current points situation, but with nine races still to go there’s plenty of time to close the gap. However, Ferrari has to bounce back right after the summer break, especially in the Drivers‘ Standings, because another strong result from Hamilton would mean the last nail in the coffin.
Mercedes has been desperate to find out the secrets behind Ferrari’s stunning engine gains, so it will also be a nail-biting moment to see what the Anglo-German team can achieve with its third and last specification of power unit. Rumour has it that it may delay the introduction of its brand-new engine as it wants to use its fresh knowledge it gained over Ferrari’s power unit during the last two race weekends.
After the four-year-long spell which saw the sweeping dominance of Mercedes, this year is finally thrilling again. Clash of the two greats - drivers and teams - is what every fan can only hope for, so let's see the cutthroat fight between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will continue all down to the wire.