Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel head to the United States with one aim, and that is to keep both world championships alive – despite the mathematical windows closing on their respective campaigns.
For Vettel, like Singapore, Russia and Japan before it, Austin is yet another must-win event, but this time it’s far more simple: finish third or lower, and it’s game over.
A win or second place is the only way the title battle can extend to Mexico, where it will get even tougher.
SOUNDBITE (Italian) MAURIZIO ARRIVABENE,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, FERRARI:
“Ferrari's season is not over yet, we still have four Grands Prix. For now, the balance, in terms of points is not favouring us.”
It’s also a case of déjà vu as the Silver Arrows have the Prancing Horse on the ropes, in what is an incredible statistical repeat of last season.
After 17 rounds run this year, Hamilton has 331 points and nine wins, Vettel 264 points and five wins. The only difference at the same time last year being Vettel’s points total, just one more.
It’s a tough situation for Ferrari to swallow given the campaign began in Maranello on far stronger footing. The SF71H a longer-wheelbase scarlet rocket expected to blast apart Mercedes’ hybrid era dominance.
… another from its mild-mannered technical director Mattia Binotto.
SOUNDBITE (English) MATTIA BINOTTO,
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR, FERRARI:
“We have the sidepods, the radiator ducts, which are even more aggressive, more innovative, compared to what we have last year and I think that overall the entire team did a fantastic job in terms of packaging, to be very tight.”
But the Prancing Horse’s progress has been hampered by mistakes under pressure, born from emotion; something proudly on display right from the glamorous car’s launch in Maranello.
SOUNDBITE (English) MAURIZIO ARRIVABENE,
TEAM PRINCIPAL, FERRARI:
“This car is made here, i[t’]s made in our factory, i[t’]s made in Italy. And it’s a piece of excellence of our country. And this is the emotion that I feel everytime that I’m going to see this car.”
But that emotion has turned from joy to despair.
Japan was its most recent low point, the Scuderia sending its two cars out in Q3 during qualifying on intermediates, while Mercedes opted for supersofts – forcing a pit and switch before Vettel went wide at Spoon, [and] leaving him down in ninth, when he needed pole position most.
In the race, Vettel finished sixth despite dropping down to 19th, after a risky move on Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen at the same corner he’d gone wide at in qualifying, Spoon.
The Italian press savaged the Italian marque in the aftermath, pulling no punches on a Ferrari it saw in ruins.
“There are strategists who make mistakes, a weak driver who learns nothing from mistakes, a team boss who attacks his team, and a car that suddenly seems to struggle,” said La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The struggle to match Mercedes has been mysterious despite the Silver Arrows relentless development; Ferrari removing recent updates in Japan, which both drivers said was an improvement.
… while GPS data shows it no longer has the straightline speed boost that was first seen in Germany, suggesting to some that it’s had to dial back its hybrid capabilities - which the FIA said its monitoring did not affect.
With four races left, Ferrari must recover to regain even a shred of respect. The United States Grand Prix is its last chance for glory in 2018, and while keeping the championships alive is a long shot – an error-free weekend will at least show the fire still burns hot at Maranello.