Opinion: underlying significance of Ferrari’s Abu Dhabi performance

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Sebastian Vettel stands atop the Abu Dhabi podium after finishing the race in P3.

In this piece, Green Flag F1’s Editor-in-Chief, Steven Walton, explains why he believes there’s a greater significance hanging over Ferrari’s meager 3rd and 4th place finishes in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix…

On March 26th, 2017, Scuderia Ferrari opened the new Formula 1 season by beating the works Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton by close to ten seconds, a result that Maurizio Arrivabene thought reflected “all the effort and hard work put in over the past few months.”

Fast forward 245 days from that race and we’re now at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The tables have turned and Ferrari have found themselves on the receiving end of a twenty second thrashing from Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.

There’s no denying, the situation had changed. Dramatically.

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Does this meme, that we made in a few seconds, really sum 2017 up?

Further proof: after three rounds of the 2017 season, Ferrari led the Constructors Championship by three points – but, by the chequered flag at Abu Dhabi, they were 116 points behind the two Mercedes drivers. Heading into the summer break, after eleven rounds of the 2017 Formula 1 season, Sebastian Vettel had a rather large 14 point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers Championship – in just seven races Hamilton turned the gap to 46 points and secured his fourth title…

The point is, Ferrari spent a significant portion of 2017 looking like, and at points being, the team to beat. But, suddenly, and somewhat harshly, the team from Maranello, who haven’t won anything since 2008, were simply annihilated by a pair of Silver Arrow’s that gave off their best impression of absolute perfection.

In the first five races of the season, the average gap between the fastest Mercedes and fastest Ferrari at the end of each Grand Prix was +1.256s, in favor of the Prancing Horse. Come the final five rounds of 2017, the odds had significantly turned to the side of the Silver Arrows, who now finished, on average, 18.732s ahead of their Italian competitors.

Simply being out-developed by Mercedes has a lot to do with this massive change in pace, and an exclusive Green Flag F1 investigation into the intricacies of the 2017 W08-Hybrid revealed the full developmental gains made by the team from Brackley throughout the summer months.

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Sebastian Vettel in Thursday’s pre-race press conference.

Anyway, it’s probably about time we focus on the actual race at hand: Sunday’s Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi. On no occasion during said race did Ferrari look the slightest bit capable of taking some sort of fight to Mercedes. By the end of the first lap, third placed Vettel was already 2.384s behind Bottas’ lead and by the time DRS was enabled, the German was 1.762s behind Hamilton ahead of him.

Despite Yas Marina’s low surface abrasion suggesting an overcut was a feasible strategy, Ferrari were forced to pit before both Mercedes after Daniel Ricciardo posed a threat by undercutting. The point of this? Ferrari weren’t fast enough to worry about what was happening ahead of them – no, they were so slow they had to cover Red Bull behind.

Simplistically put, I believe Abu Dhabi was Ferrari’s worst race in all of 2017 because they didn’t just ‘look and feel’ like a direct incarnation of their 2016 selves – a season where they failed to win a single race – no, they actually were on par with their 2016 performance. Terrible, and only scraping the bottom of the performance barrel to stay ahead of the raging bulls (Ricciardo’s retirement cut them some slack).

And then, it wasn’t made better when we all saw Mercedes launch to another easily executed Grand Prix victory, one that I believe summed up a season that was originally predicted to be so close and so continually exciting. Don’t get me wrong, it was an enjoyable season, Spain, Baku and Mexico (among others) threw up great drama and entertainment – but there’s no denying 2017 didn’t pan out the way we all initially believed it would.

Funnily enough, 2017 didn’t pan out the way Lewis Hamilton thought either, as he predicted twice throughout the season, in Belgium and the United States, that his enthralling championship fight with Vettel would go “down to the wire.” But as we saw, that wasn’t the case at all…

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Sebastian Vettel drives the Yas Marina circuit during free practice. 

Abu Dhabi, and Ferrari’s 20 second deficit to Mercedes, just epitomized the direction I believe the short term future of Formula 1 is going in: continued Mercedes dominance. They’ve done it for four whole seasons now – which unfortunately means I’ve never personally witnessed a season without them always at the front.

I just feel like Ferrari have run out of steam, and they’re on their knees trying to come up with a design to beat the dominance. I can’t see Mercedes dominance ending until 2021, which means three more seasons…

I know you want it to change; I know I want it to change as well, and I sincerely hope it can. But 2017 ended on a disappointing note for Ferrari, and Lewis Hamilton proved what an effect leaving a season so poorly can have when he lost the 2016 title to Nico Rosberg.

I really hope Ferrari aren’t already set on a path that’ll see them significantly drop the ball in 2018, but then again, 2017’s initial form came from nowhere – so maybe 2018’s can too.

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Steven Walton is a 18 year old student currently attending St Andrews College in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was bought up with two older brothers and his big passions are sports (especially motorsport), people and writing.

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