Faltering Ferrari must respond at Hungary

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By , Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers’ standings at the halfway point of the season, yet Ferrari are displaying concerning symptoms of a fadeout as the summer break approaches.

    Following a disastrous British Grand Prix in which the German’s advantage was slashed to a solitary point, the Italian outfit can’t afford another disappointing weekend at Hungary in a fortnight as Mercedes builds momentum at each event.

    Kimi Raikkonen can consider himself unfortunate not to have claimed second at Silverstone, yet Lewis Hamilton’s peerless victory in front of his compatriots and Valtteri Bottas’ rise from ninth on the grid to complete a Silver Arrows clean sweep indicates that the German marque now carries an advantage which first became evident at last month’s Canadian Grand Prix.

    It’s possible that Bottas would have passed his countryman irrespective of the late race tyre failure which befell both Ferraris, and it was Vettel on this occasion that appeared quite listless in fourth prior to his own issue immediately following Raikkonen’s, limping home in seventh following his enforced stop on the penultimate lap.

    Despite Vettel’s near miss the previous weekend at Austria, it’s no coincidence that Ferrari hasn’t claimed victory since Monaco in May. The 30-year-old had enjoyed an extremely consistent campaign until Canada – not placing lower than second, though a subsequent solitary podium, entwined with his outburst at Azerbaijan, which potentially cost him victory, has allowed both Mercedes protagonists to reel in the deficit.

    Even so, the 30-year-old is preaching calm, remarking that “there is no reason to panic or worry… Mercedes are very quick and there are a couple of advantages that we need to work on”, when the window between the manufacturers appeared marginal at the commencement of the European season.

    Be that as it may, Hamilton’s setbacks at Azerbaijan and Austria denied him greater hauls, while Bottas has been the form driver over the period with podiums at each event to consolidate his title credentials, thus the German can consider himself fortunate to enjoy any advantage at this stage.

    The constructors already appears to be Mercedes’ to lose, having established a 55-point margin over Ferrari on account their ability to call on either driver to deliver in the absence of the other, while the latter has been forced to contend with Raikkonen’s indifferent form – either through ‘laggard’ performances or as realised on Sunday, misfortune, yet this belies the reality that Mercedes has enjoyed the superiority for some time.

    Sebastian Vettel's Formula One visits the Ferrari pit lane at Austria's Grand Prix.

    (GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

    Mercedes tightened its grip as the season progressed throughout their erstwhile dominance of the hybrid era, in contrast to Ferrari – competitive in the early stages of 2016 only to slip behind Red Bull in the second half. A similar trend has emerged in recent times, with the Milton Keynes outfit making noticeable inroads since Montreal, masked substantially by Max Verstappen’s recurring reliability issues.

    The Brackley outfit has swept qualifying since Canada, and Vettel – whether fighting for victories or the scraps, has frequently found himself with too much work to do in the latter stages, culminating in his poor display on Sunday, having been passed by Verstappen for third on the opening lap.

    Hungary’s twisting and undulating profile is a potential strike zone for Red Bull, thus Ferrari must be wary of the resurgent energy drinks company, and its immediate opponents in Mercedes – no longer the temperamental ‘prima donna’ of early season events, as Vettel attempts to reassert himself against the former’s twin pronged attack on the eve of the four-week hiatus.

    Notwithstanding the three victories already gleaned, the fear that Ferrari has peaked prematurely remains unfounded for the time being, though signing off from the opening phase of the season on a high note, and concluding the European leg following the break in strong form is crucial as the circus prepares to hit the road for the run to Abu Dhabi.