Vettel: We have positive expectations ahead of 2018

Date published: February 23 2018

Sebastian Vettel is “confident” Ferrari’s new SF71H will be a “good” car, but how good remains to be seen.

The German was on hand at Maranello on Thursday to take the covers off the Scuderia’s 2018 challenger.

It is the car that Vettel hopes will carry him to his first World title with Ferrari after missing out last season.

He had been leading the championship through to the Italian Grand Prix but a spate of poor races meant Lewis Hamilton took control, and the title.

Vettel is hoping to bounce back this season.

“Well, I think we always have some positive expectation,” he said.

“The amount of work that goes into a new car is immense, it’s not just the work of the winter.

“Work on this started quite early during last season to look after this year’s car, and this is the result.

“Exciting times!

“In terms of expectations, it’s always difficult… we’ve worked very hard and we think in the right way.

“The next few weeks will be very important to understand if all the things we’ve thought of start making sense.

“We’re confident the car will be good to drive, and I can’t wait to get a feel.”

Rosberg predicts a fifth title for Hamilton

Date published: February 17 2018

Nico Rosberg has put forward his prediction for this year’s title fight with Lewis Hamilton taking the title by a single point ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Last season the Mercedes and Ferrari driver locked horns in the opening half of the campaign with Vettel leading the standings.

A dismal run from Ferrari cost the German dearly while Hamilton and Mercedes surged ahead in the development race.

Five wins in the latter half of the championship saw Hamilton seal the crown ahead of Vettel.

And this year Rosberg reckons it will be more of the same, only a littel closer.

“My prediction corresponds to what happened last year,” he told German television RTL.

“So Lewis Hamilton wins, this time just one point ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

“After that is Lewis’ team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.”

‘Hamilton handles pressure, Vettel folded’

Date published: February 13 2018

Lance Stroll is hoping to take inspiration from Lewis Hamilton, not Sebastian Vettel, as he progresses through his Formula 1 career.

Stroll will be the most experienced driver at Williams in 2018, starting his second campaign alongside rookie Sergey Sirotkin.

And the Canadian wants to emulate Hamilton and the way he applies himself to races when the pressure is on.

“You saw in the title race last year how well Lewis handles pressure, (Sebastian) Vettel folded, but Lewis was able to handle that expectation,” Stroll said via the Daily Express.

“His car wasn’t always easy to drive. Mercedes struggled at a few races.

“But he still managed to get the most out of it and score points when he had to. He was consistent throughout the whole year. He really was on it, he was determined to score points every weekend.

“Hats off to him, he completely deserves the success he has had. He is extremely talented and I hope I can have half the success he’s had in my career.”

Hamilton and Vettel are both tied on four World Championships apiece and are set to do battle once again in 2018.

Hamilton v Vettel: The race to five World titles

We only got a taste of Lewis Hamilton v Sebastian Vettel last year, but will the 2018 season finally provide us with an epic title battle between two of the all-time greats?

Locked on four World Championship titles apiece, Hamilton and Vettel will attempt to break away from another four-time World Champion in Alain Prost and climb to the second-highest rung on the ladder with Juan Manuel Fangio.

Then maybe, just maybe, Michael Schumacher’s unprecedented seven World titles will not look so daunting.

Ahead of another potential showdown, we assess each driver’s character, the cars they will have at their disposal, the role that Red Bull could play and the respective Finnish team-mates who are set to play the supporting roles to the main cast once again.

Character

Lewis Hamilton

For the most part, Hamilton religiously sticks to the well thumbed through playbook of keeping his own team’s expectations in check whilst simultaneously talking up the ability of the opposition.

There is no doubt that Ferrari improved dramatically from the 2016 season and re-emerged as a genuine title contender, but not many would have become transfixed by the illusion that Hamilton was trying to create. He and Mercedes were still as strong as ever.

However, there were race weekends where it did not all go Hamilton’s way in 2017. Well off the pace in Russia, a disastrous qualifying in Monaco leading to a damage limitation race and having to overcome a gearbox penalty in Austria to name just a few.

And, when he is not contention, Hamilton can soon turn into a moody teenager who has just been sent to his room, giving monosyllabic answers before stating how difficult it is to overtake on said track.

But given his celebrity status outside of the sport, it is the headlines that he makes off the track that always have the risk of distracting him from his ultimate goal of winning World Championships.

In the last year alone, Hamilton faced strong criticism for missing the live event in London ahead of his home grand prix at Silverstone and was one of the big names featured in the Paradise Papers leak over tax avoidance.

Even in the off-season when you barely hear a peep from the drivers (unless you are Lance Stroll of course who is seemingly interviewed every day), Hamilton was still making news after questioning why his nephew was wearing a princess dress.

That led to an apology before a complete purge of his social media accounts. All of which could have easily been avoided.

Hamilton has also confessed that he struggles to stay motivated once a World Championship is won, as seen with his clumsy crash in Brazil which saw him start the race from the pit lane.

But, while he switches off after the job is done, his respected rival switches off in the heat of the moment.

Sebastian Vettel

It is incredibly surprising to see a driver of Vettel’s stature have zero social media presence, but he prefers the quiet life… until he steps into a Formula 1 car.

Vettel’s mentality has been called into question long before the events of last season and he arguably has the shortest fuse of any driver on the grid. He is well aware that he lets his emotions get the better of him and needs to learn from his mistakes, but that is easier said than done when you are all alone in the cockpit with the adrenaline pumping.

Whilst he would never admit to it in front of the camera, Hamilton will have no doubt afforded himself a little smile after the infamous Baku incident knowing he got inside Vettel’s head just by being the car in front of him. The data proved that he did not do anything else to antagonise him.

Much was made of the resulting penalty given to Vettel with many believing the punishment was too lenient, but the biggest conclusion to take away from all the drama was how a driver of his talent and his experience is still getting himself into these situations.

Also bubbling under the surface is a rivalry with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who is also finding a way to get under Vettel’s skin. Their ding-dong battle at the British Grand Prix leading to Vettel making a drastic swerve to the left to cut off the Dutchman in Singapore and causing a disastrous double DNF for Ferrari.

There will no doubt be more flashpoints to come in 2018 that will test Vettel’s character and it will be fascinating to see whether he can finally keep his cool.

Car

Mercedes

Perhaps the most ominous sign of them all comes from the Mercedes car. As seen from Hamilton’s struggles mentioned earlier, the W08 was far from perfect, but the fact that they eventually strolled to a fourth consecutive double whilst trying to tame ‘a diva’ of a car suggests Ferrari are going to have to vastly improve once again in 2018 to have any chance of stopping Mercedes’ stranglehold.

Having had the last few races of the season and the winter to address those temperamental tendencies, there is a strong suggestion that Mercedes will switch to a high-rake concept – which has already been adopted by Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Renault – for 2018, and shorten their wheelbase to help better prepare for the narrow tracks which proved problematic last year.

Mercedes’ inconsistencies at certain tracks gave Ferrari and Red Bull opportunities that neither were able to take on a regular basis. Considering the sheer size and scale of the Mercedes operation, it would very surprising to see the Silver Arrows offer the same luxury this upcoming season.

Ferrari

It can be dangerous reading too much into pre-season, but after months without track action it is easy to pore over any data we can get our hands on. That being said, and even with the sandbags attached, Ferrari fired their first warning that they were on the road to recovery and ready to take the fight to Mercedes.

Those thoughts were confirmed in the season-opener at Albert Park and continued to grow stronger as Vettel finished inside the top two in the first six races of the 2017 campaign. But, coupled with Vettel’s fragile mindset were significant reliability problems that completely spiralled out of control.

Outspoken Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne suggested that standards had dropped at the Scuderia which is criminal given it was closest the team have been in years to toppling Mercedes.

Marchionne implemented ‘quality control’ changes after the Malaysian Grand Prix when Kimi Raikkonen failed to start, but even that did not stop Vettel’s race in Japan coming to an abrupt end because of a broken spark plug.

A lot was made of Mercedes’ power, but just as impressive was their reliability. Hamilton was the only driver to complete every single lap of the 2017 season and Ferrari face another daunting task in trying to reach that incredibly high standard.

One potential positive is that Ferrari and Red Bull appear to be inadvertently working together to bridge the gap to Mercedes by taking the best bits from each other’s cars.

Vettel noticed in Singapore that Red Bull pretty much copied Ferrari’s bargeboard design which played a part in their usual late-season surge and, when the season was done and dusted after Mexico, Ferrari tested out a Red Bull-influenced diffuser.

The Red Bull factor

At worst, Red Bull could take more precious points away from the top two; at their absolute best, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo have the ability to ensure that Hamilton and Vettel do not even become the main protagonists this season.

What Red Bull need to do, though, is get themselves out of this all too familiar trend of starting the season slow and finishing it strong. To try and address that, Red Bull have brought forward the development of the RB14 and started work on the new car earlier than have done in seasons past.

Another obstacle for them to overcome is related to their use of a ‘trick’ suspension system. The FIA have clamped down on the intricate system which Red Bull optimised, allowing them to get peak aerodynamic and tyre performance by adjusting the ride height of the car through the corners.

Red Bull, backed by the all-knowing guru of Adrian Newey, will no doubt have a new trick up their sleeve, but finding it may cost crucial time once again.

Lurking in the background is the unresolved future of Daniel Ricciardo which could also escalate into a distraction, but Mercedes and Ferrari also have drivers whose futures will be questioned as the 2018 season develops.

Team-mates

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas smashed through the glass ceiling last season when leaving Williams to replace the retired Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. He was the calm after the storm following a tense rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg – but that is part of the problem.

While Bottas has proven he is capable of winning races on merit, his self-confessed doubts over his own confidence and Mercedes’ refusal to commit to more than a year at a time to him does nothing to suggest that he is made of World Championship-winning material.

If Bottas cannot hoist himself up to Hamilton’s level and ruffle his feathers, he can at least be relied upon to be a trusted team player who can make a valuable contribution to Mercedes’ season and, in turn, help Hamilton land a fifth title.

Three victories, 13 podiums, and one of only three drivers to break the 300-point barrier last season, Bottas was far from disgraced in his first campaign at the very top and, despite his own doubts, should be confident of at least producing another relatively successful season.

Kimi Raikkonen

Over the winter period, Ferrari president Marchionne suggested that this year could be the last year that Raikkonen has to rediscover his best form. The Scuderia need him to do that and quickly as he is essential to guarding the door to at least stop Red Bull sneaking in.

Raikkonen secured just seven podiums in 2017 and needs to make a much bigger contribution this season, which starts by being more of a threat in qualifying, if he is to have any positive say in where the silverware ends up.

Similar to Hamilton and Bottas, Vettel and Raikkonen get on well with each other – but in both cases that would soon change if the deputies outperform their current rank.

And Vettel will need Raikkonen somewhere closer to his best to act as a buffer between him and Hamilton if his own dreams of winning a title with Ferrari are to be realised.

Mark Scott

Hamilton discusses his top three title rivals

Date published: January 28 2018

Lewis Hamilton has said himself, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso are the “four strongest drivers” on the Formula 1 grid.

The Brit is gearing up to defend his World Championship title and is hoping for a blockbuster clash with three other big names throughout the course of the season.

“We’re the four strongest drivers,” Hamilton said. “I really hope we are all in the fight next year. It would be friggin’ amazing.”

“You look at them all slightly differently. They all have different characteristics.

“Sebastian, for example, from this year, you could say: ‘Give more space.’ – not in a negative way.

“Max takes a lot of risks. Also, you have to give [him] more space, but he is more inexperienced than the other guys.

“Fernando – toughest driver there is, so you have to keep that utmost respect for each other, but you’ve really got to play your cards right to utilise the racecraft.

“His racecraft is mighty, but Max’s racecraft is very impressive [too].”

Hamilton also continued in his praise for Verstappen, saying he would pay money himself to watch a title battle with the Dutchman.

“He’s doing wonderful things, but he is going to grow so much over the next 10 years,” Hamilton said.

“I don’t think it will be a problem, it’ll just be freaking tough [to beat him]. Wouldn’t that be a fight? Even I’d pay to see that.”

‘Now everyone will write: Vettel to Mercedes’

Date published: January 24 2018

Toto Wolff is expecting the headlines to come through thick and fast after running into Sebastian Vettel at an event on the Austrian slopes: “Vettel to Mercedes”.

The two met up during the off-season at the skiing world cup and were photographed together along with Daimler CFO Bodo Uebber.

Wolff says he can predict what the headlines will read.

He told the Köln Express newspaper: “Now everyone will write ‘Vettel to Mercedes’!”

The Mercedes motorsport boss was quick to clarify the situation.

“We are neighbours in Switzerland and friends and we just speak normally,” he said.

It is not the first time that Vettel, who has been linked to Mercedes but more through rumours than facts, and Wolff have socialised publicly with the Austrian attending Vettel’s birthday party last season.

Vettel: Final step for Ferrari will be hardest

Date published: January 5 2018

Sebastian Vettel believes Ferrari’s final step toward winning titles again will be the “hardest” one to take, but thinks the Scuderia have a solid platform to build on.

2017 saw a long-awaited revival from Ferrari but that ultimately could not be sustained over the entire season as Mercedes eventually came out on top again.

With Vettel now preparing to go head-to-head with fellow four-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, he is optimistic that Ferrari have what it takes to complete the final step on the road to recovery.

“Obviously the regulations stay roughly the same. I think we have a good and healthy platform to build on at the beginning of the year so I hope we can continue,” Vettel told Autosport.

“What we have to do is take that final step. If you look back it’s always that final step that’s the hardest.

“There’s a lot of work going on already and for the last couple of months focusing on next year, trying to make the car faster, with more power into the power unit, and then we’ll see where we are.”

Vettel thinks it has mostly been “good news” for Ferrari since the introduction of the new aerodynamic regulations in 2017 and is hoping to be a title contender once again in 2018.

“In the end as a driver you want to win, and obviously when you are competitive at the beginning you don’t know if it will be enough to fight for the championship,” he added.

“Usually it’s a no-brainer: if the car is quick and you are doing your job well then as the season progress it will lead you to good news or bad news.

“For the most of it I think it’s been good news.

“There were a couple of weeks that were quite painful for us, but overall it’s always great if you have a package that you can take to the fight.”