Sebastian Vettel remains confident that Ferrari has the package to beat Mercedes — so long as his team can find its setup sweet spot.
Ferrari’s form has been difficult to read over the first three rounds of the season. The Italian squad was a despondent second in Australia, yet enjoyed a strong upswing in performance in Bahrain, where Charles Leclerc would have won the race at a canter had engine troubles not wrecked his chances.
It was tempting in the aftermath of the desert race to write off the first round as an outlier, but in China the Scuderia was again confoundingly off the pace despite the long Shanghai back straight supposedly favoring the SF90’s strength in a straight line.
In theory the Baku Street Circuit for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, comprising the longest flat-out stretch of any track on the calendar, should suit Ferrari but Vettel (pictured above walking the track with the team’s engineers on Thursday) believes his team’s performance in Azerbaijan will be more about setup than track profile.
“I think we have a very strong package,” he said. “I’m confident that if we can get it in the right place, then we should be able to show that and give the others a very, very hard time.
“Obviously we didn’t get the best out of the first three races. I think Mercedes here and there got a little bit more than maybe they thought they can, which is also a strength. But obviously we try and turn it around in our favor.”
In the process of honing the car’s configuration Ferrari has slipped to 57 points behind Mercedes, while Vettel has fallen to 31 points — more than a clear race victory — behind title leader Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes has claimed one-two finishes in all three races to date — the last time any team managed such a feat was in 1992, when Williams won all but five grands prix — and although 18 races remain this season, time is running out for Ferrari to stem the bleeding.
The team has brought a raft of car upgrades to Baku to boost its chances of success, but Vettel is remaining calm in the face of Ferrari’s troubles and refuses to buy into talk that this weekend could be a decisive race in the story of the 2019 championship.
“It’s simple: if you win every race, you win the championship — that’s the easiest way to do it!” Vettel said. “I’m not thinking that it all depends on one single moment.
“I know that some people like to put it that this is the ‘turning around’ or the decider or so on. I think we have a lot of races left and hopefully at one point we can look back and say this was the decider and the decisive moment.
“For sure if we do another 17 races like this, then we know also it’s too late to turn it around — we’re aware of that but being aware of that doesn’t mean that now is the decisive moment.
“I think any day is important, any Friday, any Saturday, any Sunday — even the days off; setting the path in terms of development for the future, there are no off days.”