SEBASTIAN Vettel says Ferrari still have plenty of “potential to unleash” in their bid to wrestle back the championship advantage from Mercedes after the summer break.
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As F1 prepares to down tools for four weeks, Vettel trails title rival Lewis Hamilton by 24 points after the Mercedes driver’s back-to-back wins in Germany and Hungary.
Although Ferrari boasted the faster car for both events, a crash for Vettel in Germany enabled Hamilton to snatch victory before a thunderstorm for qualifying at Budapest wiped out Ferrari’s speed advantage.
But Vettel is confident Ferrari — just 10 points behind Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship — can hit back when the season resumes in Belgium at the end of August.
“This year has shown so far that our car is more efficient, our car is stronger and still has a lot of potential to unleash,” said Vettel.
“So I’m quite confident with what’s sitting in the pipeline that we can improve.”
After the race in Hungary, Hamilton said Mercedes held the lead of the title race because, even if Ferrari had the quicker car, the Silver Arrows had “operated better and been better on strategy”.
But after being swept aside by the Mercedes juggernaut immediately after the summer break 12 months ago when the Merc was simply too quick and too reliable for the 2017 Ferrari, Vettel is pinning his hopes of landing a fifth title ahead of Hamilton on the speed superiority of this year’s Ferrari.
“Compared to last year, we lost the championship I think because our car wasn’t quick enough to be a match in the final part of the season,” he said.
“I am happy to see that the car is fast, it has worked well on every track so far, so I think this is the most important thing. Our car has a big potential, so I feel relaxed, going on holiday, for the races to come.”
Speaking to Sky F1, Vettel added: “l am confident that if we have a car to fight with we can put them under pressure and make things happen in the second half.”
FERRARI STILL THE BENCHMARK
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was delighted with a Lewis Hamilton victory that saw the Silver Arrows extend their lead in both championships at the Hungarian GP, but still believes Ferrari’s recent power surge means they are the F1 2018 benchmark.
But Wolff has also warned his team’s main rivals that Mercedes will “leave no stone unturned” in order to match their performance.
Hamilton stormed away for the win on Sunday to open up a 24-point lead over Sebastian Vettel in the title race heading into the summer break, defying his team’s fears that Ferrari, the quickest team in the dry at recent grands prix, would fight back in the Budapest’s heat after a wet qualifying.
“We won a race in Budapest, in 60 degrees track temperatures, and that was not something we thought would be achievable for us,” Wolff told reporters.
“That gives me a good feeling that we have understood more and we can be more competitive in the hot races in the future.”
But despite their failure to challenge Hamilton at the Hungaroring — Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finished second and third — Wolff is in no doubt who holds the engine advantage, claiming Ferrari were gaining almost half a second on the straights.
“We have been benefiting for many years with engine power, but Ferrari has done a job now that makes everybody need to catch up,” he said. “We have fallen back since Austria.”
Four-time double world champions Mercedes certainly have a fight on their hands — but are determined to battle back after the three-and-a-half-week break.
“I believe it’s nice to be in a situation where we’re the challenger,” Wolff explained.
“Since 2013 we haven’t been the challenger and it’s difficult to set the benchmark.
“You’re basically running with a cross on your back. Now we know where the level of performance is with the Ferraris, and that is something that we are very eager and very motivated to achieve.
“We are not going to rest until we have done that.
“Andy Cowell [engine chief] and his troops, including the chassis integration teams, will leave no stone unturned in order to match it.
“We just need to really push hard on the chassis side and on the engine side and find that additional performance. It’s there, it’s not trivial, it’s very complex, but it’s there.”