Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto has admitted Mercedes has the quicker car after his team slumped to its fourth straight loss at the hands of the Silver Arrows.
The story of the season to date has been of the German marque snatching victories from its Italian rival by virtue of better execution rather than superior equipment after preseason testing suggested the Scuderia had the outright better car. However, after being outclassed at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on another circuit that figured to have worked to his car’s strengths, Binotto conceded that Ferrari still has it all to do to open its championship campaign.
“Four races in the season, no win for Ferrari, four wins for Mercedes — no doubt they are very strong,” he said. “Certainly they’ve got a slightly better car.”
But Binotto stressed that the gap between the teams isn’t as big as Ferrari’s 74-point deficit to Mercedes suggests.
“I think that the gap is not so big and the points of the result are not reflecting the true potential of the cars,” he emphasized. “In the race today, yes, we weren’t as fast as them, but we didn’t finish 20 seconds behind.
“If you look at the delta lap time average on the race, somehow it is significant but still little, and I think it’s something on which there is much to try to work and then to close in the near future.”
Of particular intrigue are the wild swings in performance from practice to qualifying and again to the race. The Azerbaijan weekend was a prime example — the Italian team looking unimpeachable during free practice, only thereabouts in qualifying and then off the pace in the race — but so too has the team’s competitiveness varied relative to Mercedes from circuit to circuit.
“Certainly the others are very strong and we are facing a very strong competition,” Binotto said, but added that he believed the fundamentals of his are sound.
“I think we had a good car for quali. Potentially we could have been on pole. We weren’t,” he said. “If you’ve got a car fast enough to score potentially the pole, you’ve got a good car overall.
“The races are certainly a different matter. I think that being in front or staying behind, it is quite different to manage your pace, your tires.
“When you have got fresh or clean air certainly it is a lot easier, so I think that our pace as well today has been affected by our position on the grid at the start.”
Attention now turns to the Spanish Grand Prix, where the pressure will be on Ferrari to perform after it looked so strong during preseason testing at the same venue. But it already fast-tracked updates to Azerbaijan in a fruitless attempt to stem the bleeding, and if ground cannot be made up in Barcelona, serious questions will be asked about the credibility of the team’s championship campaign.
“I think obviously Mercedes is very strong at the moment; I’m pretty sure they will be very strong as well in Barcelona,” Binotto deflected. “But more important I think is being focused on ourselves. We need to look at our weaknesses and try to address them.
“The updates worked as expected. These are only the very first ones. A few updates are expected as well in the next races, so we will not stop here.
“In Spain I’m pretty sure that many teams will bring aero package or car developments, so that will be again a different balance compared to what we’ve seen so far in the season. Our hopes definitely are that we can do a better job in the future.”