After preseason testing Ferrari had convinced all that they had the quickest package for their drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc but the first four races of the season have proved everyone wrong as Mercedes have dominated with a quartet of one-two finishes.
The Scuderia are on the back-foot as they arrive in Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix weekend hoping that they rediscover that early season pace by bringing forward their updates in both the aero and engine departments.
Sebastian Vettel told reporters on Thursday, “We hope to improve the car. We introduced some bits in Baku already last race and another set of new parts here. Obviously, we want to make the car faster here and there.”
“I think we were reasonably quick but not quick enough overall to put the cars on the front row at every event. We’re lacking a little bit, but I think overall the package is promising. We know that we have a strong car; we’ve struggled a bit to put it together.”
While the team seek performance on-track, they are also managing a potentially explosive situation as Vettel faces a stern challenge from young teammate Charles Leclerc.
But according to Vettel, “The spirit is good, the team is in good shape, so we’re looking forward to come here. We’re confident about the parts we’ve brought here, we are introducing a new engine as well, so we’ve got some stuff that we think should help us to be stronger than the last races.”
“And as I said, the spirit is good. Comparing to previous years, at this point last year we were in a better place, we had won some races and overall we’d been more competitive, but nevertheless I think the spirit is as good or better than last year.”
While Mercedes have dominated early on with near perfect displays, Ferrari have slipped up with some dubious strategy calls from the pit wall not helped by a lack of firepower for their drivers when it matters.
Although strong in phases, the SF90 has also suffered with marked drops in pace during the late stages of races. Although the team insists the package is right up there with Mercedes, they clearly are still hunting for that sweetspot which until now has proved to be finicky if not elusive
Asked if believed his team could find the pace they enjoyed three months ago, Vettel replied, “The honest answer is we don’t know entirely. Obviously, the car was really good in testing. We arrived in Australia and we struggled a little bit to feel the same.”
“I think the first four races for us have been a little bit up-and-down. There were stretches where the cars felt really good and other parts where the car hasn’t – but deep down we know that the car is strong. So, we are trying to put the bits together and trying to understand.”
“We haven’t found the silver bullet – but in the last ten years I never found the silver bullet so I don’t think it exists. It’s really getting down to the detail, trying to understand more and more, trying to understand the conditions that we face, and trying to obviously improve and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“This weekend will be interesting for us because obviously we had such a good feeling and it’s not so long ago. I’m pretty sure I remember how the car felt and it will be interesting to see how it behaves the next couple of days.”
“But I’m quite confident if we can get to that level then we should be very competitive. As I said, on top of that, we have some new stuff, so let’s see. I can’t give an exact answer.”
Vettel is third in the championship standings albeit 35 points adrift of the leader Valtteri Bottas, but the gap does not appear to concern the German, “At this point of the year, it doesn’t really matter by how much. I think it’s quite straightforward, we need to start scoring more points.”
“The later we start doing that, the worse it looks. The sooner, the better. It’s pretty straightforward to be honest,” added the 31-year-old ahead of his 231st Grand Prix weekend.
Big Question: Will Ferrari close the gap to Mercedes in Spain?