As the F1 season approaches its summer break, the Hungarian Grand Prix highlighted the disparate philosophies with which arch-rivals Mercedes and Ferrari go about their racing.
On the one hand, Mercedes asked Valtteri Bottas to move over and let Lewis Hamilton have a crack at the Ferraris; he did so, and when Hamilton was unable to make an impression, he sportingly honoured an agreement to hand the place back even though he desperately needed the three points he thus surrendered. On the other, there was never the slightest suggestion that Sebastian Vettel, though troubled and seriously slowed by steering problems, would be asked to get out of the way of close-following team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in a very healthy Ferrari more than capable of winning the race.
One minute team president Sergio Marchionne is publicly calling the Finn a “laggard,” the other he isn’t allowed to use his speed to pass his team leader, even with a Mercedes breathing down his neck. Raikkonen, the world champion for Ferrari in 2007, is playing the same domestique role that Rubens Barrichello was obliged to fulfil for Michael Schumacher, back when Ferrari were run by current FIA president Jean Todt.
Plus ca change, plus sa meme chose.
And yet Vettel remains adamant that much has changed behind the scenes at Ferrari over the winter, and that it has been crucial to its emergence as a genuine rival to Mercedes after three seasons of disappointing performance.
“We mustn’t forget where we were 12 months ago. The steps Ferrari has made are bigger than anybody else’s. It’s been a good day,” he said as the legendary Italian team savoured their second one-two of the year.
A 14-point lead in the drivers’ championship with nine races left would have seemed impossible in previous seasons, but Vettel admits: “It’s what I dream about, to be honest. I want to win, so that’s where you want to be. The mission has been to get back to the top, so obviously we’ve had a great year. I’m only two and a half years in with the team. I think we had a great year in 2015 which helped to get the project going. 2016 was difficult, for many reasons, but it was a great year to set things up, a lot of change for the team.
“But over the winter I think we were the team that made the least noise. There was a lot of talk about the new cars and the new regulations and how it will favour one team over the other and how it will bring back other teams, and so on. I…