Sebastian Vettel left Australia shocked and stunned, after Ferrari finished almost a minute behind the dominant Mercedes W10 of Valtteri Bottas.
It was the ultimate betrayal of Ferrari’s impressive pre-season form, one that proved hollow in the harsh light of qualifying.
The truth, a deficit of seven tenths with Vettel qualifying third, and 5-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton taking his sixth-consecutive pole in Australia for a record-equalling eight overall at Albert Park.
And it now means a lot of late nights back at Maranello, despite Vettel confident of a competitive drive pre-Melbourne.
SOUNDBITE (English) SEBASTIAN VETTEL,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“It's going to be my fifth year together with Scuderia, so I think racing for Ferrari, the expectations are always there to win and that's what we all want. Obviously we've come close some years, a bit further away some other years, but overall I think we are getting closer, the team is still growing.”
Five years is already a long time for Vettel to wait for his first title with Ferrari but it was the same for his idol Michael Schumacher, who joined in 1996.
…before breaking the spell in Japan 2000, for the Scuderia’s first drivers’ title since Jody Scheckter in 1979. Schumacher taking Ferrari’s operation to the next level.
SOUNDBITE (English) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER,
7-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I just love being behind the wheel [of the car] and chase the other guys in front. That's about it honestly. And the goal obviously is to win a championship in the beginning of the season. That’s the main aim for us.”
And it still remains the main aim for the Scuderia, which scored its last drivers’ championship with Kimi Räikkönen in 2007, its last constructors’ in 2008, 11 years ago…
… before Brawn, Red Bull and Mercedes dominated.
But to do that, Ferrari and Vettel first need to claw back lost pace, with the title then likely to go to the driver who makes the fewest mistakes…something the German failed on last year.
SOUNDBITE (English) JARNO TRULLI,
F1 DRIVER, 1997-2011:
[Sebastian] Vettel got it wrong too many times. You can get it wrong as a driver, that's part of the business but unfortunately for him he did it too many times.”
This time it clearly wasn’t Vettel’s fault, with the German even questioning mid- race why his car was so slow. Team orders stopping any chance of a fight with Charles Leclerc, for now at least…
SOUNDBITE (English) NICO ROSBERG,
2016 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“To watch them manage is going to be really really cool, and then do they give Leclerc the opportunity to be number one as well, or do they sort of start by saying no, you are behind for the first season, but I don't think so, I think they will allow him to race.”
Melbourne, though, doesn’t always provide a representative picture and Vettel can at least take solace from his form at the next round in Bahrain.
The Ferrari driver is the most successful in the Kingdom with four wins including the last two-straight. Two more than current rival Lewis Hamilton, who last won in the Sakhir desert in 2015.
So it’s a difficult situation at Ferrari right now, especially with a solution yet to be found. But it’s one down, 20 to go.