Bahrain Grand Prix – The third round of the 2017 championship is set to be the real test for Ferrari and their title challenge.
With Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel on equal points in the drivers’ championship, and Mercedes and Ferrari separated by a single point in the constructors’, Bahrain is due to offer a proper representation as to how strong Ferrari can challenge for the 2017 title.
The first two races have proven that the two biggest names in modern day Formula One are closely matched in qualifying trim, with the battle for pole being decided by some 2-3 tenths. Gone are the days that Q2 would be the cue for Mercedes to turn their engine up to 11 and show their half-to-one-second advantage.
While details are missing surrounding Mercedes’ power unit capabilities and how much is currently being utilised, after hitting reliability concerns during pre-season testing in Barcelona, the current form shows Ferrari have raw speed to challenge the dominant team of the last three years.
However, the races have been misleading in some cases. Vettel ran close to Hamilton for the opening stint in Australia before an incorrect strategy call put Hamilton on the back foot and gave Ferrari victory, denying them a true head-to-head.
It was a similar scenario in China, as the weather at the start of the race caused dramas in the midfield that meant racing action only lasted a single lap before a rush to the pits to change to slick tyres which, on this occasion, dropped Vettel down the order, allowing Hamilton to cruise to victory while the German recovered.
The Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir would appear to be the best opportunity to find a direct comparison of the two teams’ race performance. Rain is highly unlikely around the desert circuit and, with one-stop races looking to be the norm until teams are allowed to select their own compounds in Spain, tyre strategy should be simplified, barring any Australia-like errors that Hamilton suffered.
It will also make Ferrari’s new engine performance visible; with four high speed stretches this track is considered a ‘power circuit’. Performance from qualifying to the race will also be one thing to look out for, especially if Mercedes are unable to use full power to defend amid reliability concerns.
Kimi Raikkonen spent much of the race in China complaining about a lack of front end feel, which will be less of an issue in Bahrain as it is more of a traditional rear-limited circuit, where braking performance and traction, the same elements that Ferrari are believed to be on par to Mercedes on, are key to a good lap time.
In a straight fight, therefore, the barometer for Ferrari will be set this weekend. The Scuderia have already demonstrated that they are a much improved team after a dismal 2016, but a clear indication on their relative pace to the current world champions is yet to be succinctly seen.