Even after winning the season opening Australian Grand Prix last weekend, Scuderia Ferrari is still unsure of its pace in relation to defending World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas.
Ferrari chief engineer Jock Clear said neither Ferrari nor Mercedes felt the need to truly push the limits of its car at any point during Sunday’s race. Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel took the lead when Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton pitted from first, with Hamilton attempting to pass Vettel when he pitted for tires later on in the race. That never happened, however, with Vettel able to pull out a 23-second gap over Hamilton after he pitted and reenter the race in first still.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen split Vettel and Hamilton when Hamilton pulled out of the pits, which slowed the Mercedes and allowed Vettel to easily pull out a large gap. It’s for this reason that neither the Ferrari’s nor the Mercedes’ true pace was shown. If Hamilton had reentered the circuit directly behind Vettel we may have seen the Briton try push the limits and pass the German, which would have shown which car has the true speed to take this year’s championship.
“If they’d got into a close battle at some stage we would have seen who was quicker,” Clear told Sky Sports post-race. “But, honestly, I can’t tell you which was the quicker car today, because I don’t think either of them saw the opportunity to really pile on the pressure.
“Early on, Lewis was managing the pace because that was the right thing to do. And once Seb was ahead he was managing the pace. We really still don’t know the answer to how quick we are in absolute terms. We know that today we won.”
It should be evident which team is faster when the Formula 1 field heads to China the first weekend of April. The modern Shanghai International Circuit has long, high-speed straights, which should accurately show whether the Ferrari or Mercedes power unit is stronger. The tight, sweeping turns should also give fans a good idea of which team has the stronger chassis and aerodynamics packages as well.