by H. Mayor / photo: f1.com
At Maranello they are re-living sensations that were almost forgotten. It was roughly a decade ago, 2008 to be precise, since the last time Ferrari climbed to the top of the podium in two of the first three races of the season. That was the year with the heart-stopping final in which Lewis Hamilton won by a single point over the then leader of the Italians Felipe Massa (although Ferrari won the Constructors cup with a very comfortable margin). Four years earlier in 2004, the legendary Michael Schumacher repeated with them, and that same year he would win is seventh and last championship title.
With the whole season still ahead of us this is just a start in statistical terms but Vettel’s double victory is not only Ferrari’s success, it means taking over Mercedes, an unthinkable feat over the last few years. -“My opinion hasn’t changed” the new Grand Prix leader declared after winning in Bahrain –“to become the world champion first you must beat Mercedes. We will take it a race at a time”. His latest victory, on top of his one in Melbourne and his second place in China confirms what many were speculating about: Ferrari has reached the competitive level of the, until then, unbeatable Mercedes.
More than just cars
These three first weeks of the competition have been pretty eventful. The blow dealt by Vettel in Sakhir has the added compound of defeating Mercedes at one of their fetish circuits and doing it after starting behind them. The beauty of this open duel goes beyond the power of the cars and into the, often missed, technical and strategic qualities. In Bahrein, Seb took off third but was able to take advantage of the inconsistency of his rivals (especially of Bottas’ dreadful performance who started at the pole and ended up blocking Hamilton). Belatedly this year, Ferrari’s strategy was solid and helped lift the German driver to his success.
Recent history tells us that the one who dominates at the beginning of the competition takes the victory home. Vettel himself won his third World Championship in 2011 after winning two of the first three races with Red Bull. Hamilton and Rosberg did the same in 2014, 2015 (the former) and 2016. Only time will tell if Vettel follows suit on this occasion. The only certainty for now is the prospect of a thrilling Grand Prix that is finally unfolding ahead of us.