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Formula One: Ferrari Begins to Stalk Mercedes

Kimi Raikonnen came dangerously close to overtaking Lewis Hamilton at the Grand Prix of Bahrain. Mercedes took notice.
Kimi Raikonnen came dangerously close to overtaking Lewis Hamilton at the Grand Prix of Bahrain. Mercedes took notice.

The incredibly skilled and determined Kimi Raikkonen showed the potential of Ferrari at this past weekend’s Grand Prix of Bahrain. Raikkonen was able to hammer Nico Rosberg’s gearbox applying pressure that played into Ferrari’s strategy of wearing down the tires and brakes of the Mercedes opponents and finally breaking the Mercedes pair to take second.

The seemingly reclusive Finnish driver was able to do so while creating a roar of expectancy throughout the entire weekend. They did not disappoint. All eyes were on the Scuderia with all of the paddock, save Mercedes, hoping to see another marque compete with the German squad. Compete they did.

Practice was generally used by the teams as a test session given the conditions facing the teams that would have to go from day to night For the most part either Sebastian Vettel or Kimi were able to separate the Mercedes drivers, a definite strategy that Ferrari is employing with Rosberg being the main target, divide and conquer.

Qualifying appeared to be a repeat of Malaysia when Sebastian qualified second behind Lewis Hamilton, leaving Nico to fall on his sword, as has become his rhythmic mantra. Mongolian throat singers would be just as effective as he will rarely blame the car and regularly blame himself. Self degradation does not work in Formula One. Blame anyone but yourself, if only to keep your self-esteem at optimum levels.

I have a theory, which is becoming more evidentiary than theory: Nico Rosberg is starved with the “leftovers” of management and strategy while Mercedes are focusing on how Lewis can be the default number one, a contractual sticking point. Ask yourselves why it has taken so long for Hamilton to sign the contract? By using Rosberg as the ‘teaser pony’ Mercedes can still take the constructors and drivers title with Rosberg strategically being relegated to number two without breaking his contract clauses. Unfortunately for Mercedes Raikkonen almost spoiled that strategy in Bahrain.

Ferrari has begun to make serious inroads into Mercedes F1 domination.
Ferrari has begun to make serious inroads into Mercedes F1 domination.

As fantastic an effort Mercedes has put forth up to this point, nothing in Formula One ever remains steady state. Sooner or later Maranello are going to become too quick to keep them locked in a cage. The race on Sunday further shook up the German juggernaut. Even when Raikkonen was on the slower medium prime compound, the softs proving to have poor performance as a result of the track conditions, he was still able to push for fastest lap times, and still able to push for track position while the other drivers were returning to the course after soft tire changes.

The three stop strategy Raikkonnen was on proved to be the master stroke, even if 3 seconds too late to overtake Hamilton. But, it was brilliant, Ferrari used a three stop strategy, which is what they anticipated wanting to stay ahead due to the competitors soft tire drop off. Raikkonen started out on the faster soft medium tires, after those were toast, he then switched to the medium compound.

Raikonnen's strategy put pressure on Mercedes apparent weakness, their brakes.
Raikonnen’s strategy put pressure on Mercedes apparent weakness, their brakes.

This move wasn’t expected by most teams, who anticipated ending the race on the medium compound, both Mercedes drivers and Sebastian Vettel followed that thinking as well. The move was a bold risk but played out in the Finn’s favor when he begun setting sector times faster than any driver out on track.

The result spoke for itself. Raikkonen had dogged the Mercedes to the point of forcing them to their point of weakness, their braking system. Both Mercedes had begun to lose their brakes due to overheating and Raikkonen had drawn dangerously close to Hamilton as a result. Several more laps and Hamilton would have stood second on the podium, but as the old adage goes, ‘if Grandma had balls, she’d be Grandpa’. Don’t expect those same brakes to be on the Silver Arrows in Barcelona three weeks hence.

Moving into the European leg of the series the drivers standings are closing up, Sebastian Vettel is now only one point away from tying with Nico Rosberg, who was 66 points, while Lewis Hamilton is a jump ahead with 93, it will be difficult to catch up with Hamilton, not so with with Nico. While Raikkonen is still a ways behind, he did shed some light on the constructors championship, putting Ferrari 52 points behind Mercedes.

You can look at it two ways. Mercedes is going to take both the drivers championship and the constructors championship by the end of the season, no questions asked. Or, Mercedes is going to take the drivers championship, knowing Nico can stay with the Ferrari’s thus preserving Hamilton’s agenda and mildly risking the constructors championship. I would have to favor the latter scenario.

Either way you look at it, Ferrari are very much in the mix.

 

 

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