When Sebastian Vettel signed for Ferrari, the assumption was that he had been seduced on name value alone – as if he had decided that if he wasn’t going to win every race any more, he might as well not win for Formula One’s most famous team.
Four races in, that theory has been obliterated. It took just two races in the famous red car for him to rediscover the taste of victory that he eluded him for 20 races, the longest sequence since the 21 from his F1 debut in 2007 to his first Toro Rosso triumph a year later on appearance 22.
Tempting the four-time world champion from Red Bull, the sport’s dominant force between 2010 and 2013, seemingly breathed new energy into everybody at Ferrari, issuing a perhaps necessary reminder of how big a draw the Prancing Horse is.
They have put a car on the podium in every race so far – an even greater achievement when you consider that Mercedes have locked out two spots to leave only one spare each time – having closed 2014 by going eight races without a single top-three finish.
Encouragingly, whereas it was initially all Vettel, taking third behind Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Australia and China and scoring a huge upset in Malaysia to take the chequered flag, Kimi Raikkonen stepped up in Bahrain, exploiting a late Rosberg error to beat the German to second.
Those two successes at Mercedes’ expense sent a strong statement that the reigning Constructors champions won’t have it as easy as in 2014, but they remain 52 points clear and 1/50 to see out the lead to Ferrari’s 10/1.
Far more important to Ferrari at present is that there has been just one instance of one of their drivers completing a race and placing behind someone other than their teammate or a Mercedes speedster, when Vettel was edged out of fourth by Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain.
The result is that the Italian giants are already 46 points clear of Williams, who were widely fancied as Mercedes’ closest threat in pre-season.
While Ferrari’s usual rhetoric would be that they don’t race for second place, their recent downturn – from eight Constructors titles in 10 years between 1999 and 2008 to a second, three thirds and two fourths in six years since – will provide more perspective.
Establishing themselves as the definitive number-two team should be the priority for the first half of the campaign, fortifying the platform from which to legitimately challenge Mercedes’ control, if not by the end of 2015 then next term.
The F1 circus’ next stop is in Spain, where Vettel is 7/1 to win and Raikkonen 8/1, some distance behind Hamilton at 1/2 and Rosberg at 3/1, yet crucially a long way clear of Bottas at 66/1 and Felipe Massa at 80/1.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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