F1: Is Vettel's Pace Flattering Ferrari


Three races into the new season and it looks like we might have a battle on for the  world championship. In one corner we have Hamilton and Mercedes, virtually unbeatable in the last three seasons; in the other Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, who are looking like they have closed the gap under the new regulations.

So far each race has turned on a pitstop call from Ferrari - twice Ferrari have struck lucky. In Australia Hamilton's pitstop brought him out behind Max Verstappen, who delayed the Mercedes driver sufficiently to affect the result. In Bahrain Hamilton's safety car pitstop and resulting gamesmanship again delayed the Mercedes sufficiently to hand Ferrari the win.

In China the safety car flipped things the other way and handed the race to Mercedes and Hamilton.

In each case the difference between the top two has been sufficiently small for victory to be swung by these factors. In itself this is a novelty compared to the last three years when Mercedes had enough of a pace advantage to still win when the cards fell against them.

So Hamilton and Mercedes; Vettel and Ferrari are nip and tuck at the front of the field. Take the top two away and something becomes apparent: Ferrari and Raikonnen just aren't in the championship.

Bottas would be two wins to the good, the remarkable Max Vertsappen one. We would be talking about another year of probable Mercedes domination.

So right now it looks like Mercedes has a better car than Ferrari - but the gap is much reduced. The rest has been made up of some clever pit strategy and some very impressive performances from Vettel.

Three races in and my expectation remains that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes should take every race. However should they experience even the slightest glitch or make the smallest mistake then Ferrari and Vettel are there to mop things up.

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