“Sebastian knows that it is decisive for success to weld a team together and keep motivation high”
For Sebastian Vettel, only the world championship counts. In his sixth year with Ferrari the four-time champion wants to finally secure a title with the Scuderia.
Ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday there is plenty of doubt about his ability to do so but also things which speak in his favour.
Vettel is comfortable at Ferrari and can handle being part of the most renowned and glamorous team in F1. Even after five years without a championship, there is no loss of spark.
“Sebastian knows that it is decisive for success to weld a team together and keep motivation high,” said Franz Tost, his former boss at Toro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri).
Being hired by Ferrari was the fulfilment of a childhood dream which he wants to crown with the championship. This remains Vettel’s goal and his four straight titles with Red Bull 2010-2013 did not come from nowhere.
“I know that I can and must improve,” the 32-year-old said.
Ferrari’s SF1000, the car for this season, has been made narrower and more compact. And with no significant rule changes, the field is likely to crowd closer together.
That – in theory – should help cut the gap to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, who looked faster than Ferrari in pre-season testing but were not without reliability problems.
Ferrari will also hope to improve processes behind the scenes after a year marred with dubious strategy calls. Team principal Mattia Binotto remains in place and he has expressed confidence in Vettel.
But while Binotto has backed Vettel’s ability, he lifted the No 1 status the German enjoyed at the start of last year. Vettel must battle it out with teammate Charles Leclerc for championship support.
“They will be on the same level, they can both fight to be at the front,” Binotto said.
The 22-year-old Leclerc not only impressed in his first season with Ferrari but outperformed his veteran colleague in wins (2-1), qualifying (12-9) and championship position (4-5).
Leclerc must back-up his opening year in red but starts with the confidence of an extended contract to 2024; Vettel is potentially looking for a new drive in 2021.
Michael Schumacher took five years to win the title with Ferrari but Vettel made too many mistakes to follow in the footsteps of his idol.
Ferrari seem to have solved some of their downforce problems to take corners quicker but at the cost of straightline speed. There will be development to come but Vettel has little margin for error if he is to compete with Mercedes and the magnificent Hamilton in particular.
The Briton is attempting to match Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and prevents an always formidable opponent if Vettel first dispatches teammate Leclerc.
He is not shying away from the challenge.