Sebastian Vettel has attempted to rubbish Mercedes’ claim that Ferrari had the faster car earlier this season, and has pointed to his disappointing qualifying performance in Russia as proof.
The perceived wisdom earlier this year was that Ferrari gained a performance advantage over Mercedes with engine updates at the British, German and Belgian Grands Prix. The power advantage — which Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff claimed he did not understand earlier this year — was referred to by Lewis Hamilton after the Belgian Grand Prix when he said Vettel had some “trick things” on his car.
The theory was backed up by GPS data of the cars, which showed the Ferrari gaining an advantage on sections of track where it was deploying energy from its power unit’s hybrid system. It soon became common belief within the paddock that Ferrari had the faster car, and that Vettel, due to a series of mistakes and collisions, was not making the most of it.
But Vettel, who is 40 points behind Hamilton ahead of Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, believes the advantage he supposedly had was overplayed by Mercedes. He believes the relative performance of the two cars has been much more evenly matched throughout the season.
“I think it’s always been very close,” he said after qualifying 0.4s off Hamilton on Saturday. “I think the other side has been very good at communicating that they had an inferior car, but I don’t think that was the case.
“We have a strong car, we know that, and a car we can work with. Hopefully in the race we will be more competitive and if not it will be difficult to beat them.”
Vettel believes race pace is especially closely matched but there have been bigger swings in performance in qualifying.
“It’s not nice to have a gap like that, but I think I have been way more realistic about the gaps in general and the performance between the cars. I know we have a great car and I’m not doubting that, but I believe their car is very strong too and has been very strong.
“I think it has been a reasonable match and there have been qualifying sessions where we had the upper hand by a tiny bit and they had the upper hand by a little bit, but sometimes also a bit more like today [in Russia] or France or other races. We have a good car and we need to keep improving it, but for the race I am fairly open. It’s a long race, we’ll see what happens.”