SPIELBERG – Ferrari is under pressure after just one race of the Formula One season and scrambling to push through aerodynamic improvements in time for Sunday's Styrian Grand Prix.
Instead of closing the gap to front-runner Mercedes this season, Ferrari's SF1000 car looks slower than last year and is also in danger of slipping behind other teams.
“The SF1000 didn’t measure up, even compared to expectations,” was Ferrari's blunt assessment.
Ferrari failed in qualifying at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc only seventh — having taken the most pole positions in 2019 — and Sebastian Vettel a dismal 11th.
Leclerc's second-place finish in that race was more about his composure amid crashes than the car's speed. Vettel, who finished 10th, was so irked about lack of balance he called the car undriveable.
It means that Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto is facing increasing pressure, given that the team was already way behind Mercedes in the drivers' and constructors' titles in 2019.
His decision making also faced scrutiny after a sudden change of strategy, three days before the first practice session in Austria.
He announced a different direction in terms of aerodynamic development, which effectively meant there could not be any car upgrades until the third race in Hungary next week.
But then hierarchy intervened.
Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri felt it was necessary to stop slipping back further and some of the aerodynamic package — scheduled for Hungary —will be introduced in Austria.
“This is certainly not the grid position that a team like Ferrari should have and we have to respond immediately," Camilleri said. "It’s clear that we have to improve on all fronts.”
This weekend's race is the second of eight races during a hectic 10-week European swing.
The GP itself is changing names yet is still being held at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg — surrounded by the Styrian mountains it is now being named after.
Different name, same objective for Red Bull driver Alexander Albon.
While Lando Norris secured his first career podium last weekend — the youngest British driver ever to do so in F1 at the age of 20 — Albon narrowly missed out on a first podium for the second time in three races.
Both times Hamilton was directly involved.
With a few laps left last Sunday it was Albon was on better tires than Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who won the race.
Albon made a hasty but clean move on the outside Hamilton, who appeared to slightly nudge his car left against Albon's passing wheel. Albon span off track while Hamilton was given a five-second time penalty, moving him from second to fourth.
Last November in Brazil, in the penultimate race of 2019, they chased second place on the second-last lap. Hamilton tried to pass Albon on the inside and clipped his car, sending Albon spinning down to 14th.
Albon was frustrated after Sunday's race, which proved doubly disheartening for Red Bull as Max Verstappen retired early when in second place.
But team principal Christian Horner sees cause for optimism.
“I believe the potential is there to fight Mercedes. Perhaps not over a single lap but over the course of the season," he said. "Our race pace looked pretty decent with Max and Alex, so I think we’ve got the basis of a good car.”
It remains uncertain whether drivers will again take the knee in support of racial equality on Sunday. Hamilton wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt last time, when 14 of the 20 drivers took the knee.
“I want people to feel excited to be a part of the change,” Hamilton said. “To me it was an emotional and poignant chapter in the progress of making F1 a more diverse and inclusive sport.”
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