Maurizio Arrivabene claims Ferrari is only trailing Mercedes by one tenth, though poor reliability and race circumstances have hampered progress so far in 2016.
Having emerged as the double world champions’ nearest rivals last season, Ferrari has taken another step in terms of performance this year.
However, a series of issues – from Kimi Raikkonen’s turbo problem in Australia to Sebastian Vettel’s engine failure in Bahrain, to the pair colliding at the start in China – have made life easier for Nico Rosberg, who has comfortably won the first three grands prix.
Despite the setbacks, Arrivabene remains confident the Maranello-based outfit has yet to stretch its legs.
“In qualifying we could target pole position [in Shanghai],” he is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com. “With our calculation we believed we were one tenth behind Mercedes, which is a margin that with a final push from the drivers could even be reduced to zero. But it didn’t happen.
“Both Seb and Kimi are working hard, they are regularly in Maranello and they are spending a lot of time with their engineers.
“In qualifying there were mistakes, but in the race they did well. I also saw a great thing from Seb – who in the pits passed two cars. He demonstrates why his salary is higher than that of Carlos Sainz.”
Save for the infamous Turn 1 clash in China, Ferrari’s patchy start to the season – it already trails Mercedes by 53 points in the standings – is mainly due to poor reliability. In its quest to topple dominant Mercedes, the Italian team admits it has focussed its efforts on outright speed when time came to develop the SF16-H.
“The car is very good,” Arrivabene added. “When last year we planned work for 2016, we had two choices: give precedence to reliability or to performance.
“In our case, the imperative was to make up ground to Mercedes, so we chose the second option. Mercedes could instead focus more on reliability having already a good performance. But obviously we knew we took some risk by focusing on pure performance.”
“In China it was important to find reliability, and on this front we breathed a sigh of relief.
“It was an important step, because I believe that in terms of performance we improved a lot. This Mercedes is the strongest team seen in the last ten years of the world championship, and to beat them you need to take some risks.”
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