Walter Buchignani: Ferrari on a roll as Formula One hits China | Montreal Gazette

Original Source    2018-04-13 19:04

Fans of the Italian team know not to get too pumped up; they’ve had their hopes raised before, only to have the air let out of the tires.

Sebastian Vettel, winner of the first two races of the Formula One season, steers his Ferrari during Friday practice in Shanghai ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP/Getty Images

Two races, two wins. Does that constitute a trend?

Ferrari fans certainly hope so, after watching Sebastian Vettel prance to unlikely victories in the first two events of the Formula One season, first in Australia and again in Bahrain last Sunday.

But the tifosi also know not to get too pumped up ahead of Round 3 in China this weekend. They’ve had their hopes raised before, only to have the air let out of the tires.

Take last year. Vettel triumphed at two of the first three stops, including Shanghai, but that didn’t translate into a championship in the end.

Instead, the red drought spilled into decade territory. Hard to believe, but Ferrari’s last drivers’ title came courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, followed by a constructors’ crown in 2008. Since then, niente.

So the Ferraristi have reason not to get too revved up at this early juncture of the new season, especially given the extenuating circumstances around Vettel’s two wins.

In Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton was comfortably ahead until he was led astray by his own team. A miscalculation by Mercedes strategists during a virtual safety-car period effectively handed Vettel the victory.

In Bahrain, Hamilton was given a five-place grid penalty because of an unscheduled gear box change, again helping Ferrari’s cause. He started ninth and finished third behind teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Not that Ferrari didn’t create problems of its own to sow seeds of doubt about its inner workings. It hardly inspires confidence when one of your drivers runs over a mechanic, breaking his leg in two places, as Raikkonen did during a pit stop.

Happily, Francesco Cigarini is said to be recuperating well from surgery. Ferrari was fined 50,000 pounds (around US$77,500) for “unsafe release” of Raikkonen’s car, which was triggered when the team’s fail-safe pit-stop procedures, well, failed.


Still, there’s no question there have been some encouraging signs from the Italian stable, and it would not be fair to suggest the team’s early season success is due entirely to the misfortune of others.

In Bahrain, the Ferrari duo locked up the front row in qualifying — a feat not seen since 2006 — a possibly crucial development given the importance of track position in modern-day F1. It remains to be seen, though, whether this was a one-off or a real breakthrough.   

And anyone who tries to tell you that today’s F1 is all about the cars and not the drivers needs to look again at the last dozen laps or so of Sunday’s race. Vettel was superlative — keeping all four wheels on the track on tires well past their life expectancy, all the while fending off Bottas biting at his behind.

As former driver turned commentator Martin Brundle put it, Bahrain was not so much a case of Ferrari beating Mercedes, but of Vettel beating Mercedes.

By the some token, it can be argued those closing laps revealed as much about Bottas as Vettel. Let’s just say the Finn did not help his cause in trying to retain his Mercedes seat beyond the end of the season. Had it been Hamilton giving chase, the result might have been different.

In any case, the sight of two drivers in different coloured cars locked in a tight fight to the finish was just what the doctor ordered on a weekend when the F1 brain trust held talks to try to find ways to spice up the on-track action following the season-opening snoozer in Melbourne.

The meeting of the Technical Working Group failed to produce any concrete measures for the near future, we’re told. But maybe the reality is we need to accept that some races will be more exciting than others, period. The hope, of course, is for more Bahrain and less Melbourne.

Pit crew members attend to Lance Stroll’s car during Friday practice in Shanghai. It’s been a rough start to the Formula One season for the Montreal-born driver and the Williams team. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the reality for Montreal-born Lance Stroll seems to be getting harsher by the week.

After a troubled start in Australia for the Williams team, Stroll qualified dead last in Bahrain, two places behind rookie teammate Sergey Sirotkin — never a good sign.

The pair finished last in the race at the desert circuit, but in reverse order, at least. (Both drivers were bumped up a couple of spots in the final classification because of penalties to others.)

Afterward, Stroll was quoted as saying “everything” on the Williams car needs improvement, while Sirotkin summed up: “We looked like idiots.”

Two races, two disasters. Does that constitute a trend?

AT A GLANCE: Live coverage of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix airs Saturday at 1 a.m. on TSN 1, 4, 5 and 1:45 a.m. on RDS. Race coverage begins Sunday at 1 a.m. on TSN 1, 4, 12:30 a.m. on TSN 5, and 1.30 a.m. on RDS. See listings for repeats.

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