After Spa’s missed opportunity, Williams must hit back at Monza

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With just seven races to go, the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season is closer than you might think. It has been a sensational year so far, and with Lewis and Nico set to go toe-to-toe until the very last round in Abu Dhabi, the title race could be one of the closest we have ever seen.

Just behind the duelling Mercedes drivers, though, a number of interesting subplots are developing. Red Bull’s rise from off-season no-hopers to three-time race winners has been very impressive, made even more so by the fact that Daniel Ricciardo has been the man to lead the team’s charge – not Sebastian Vettel. The defending world champions look set to finish second in the constructors’.

For Ferrari and Williams though, things aren’t so certain. Both teams are pushing to finish the season in third place, and must balance this bid with the diversion of resources to next year’s campaign. It’s a common trade-off in F1: do you finish the season strongly or stand a better chance of winning next year?

As things stand, Ferrari leads Williams by ten points (160 plays 150) for P3, but you would be forgiven for expecting a reverse result following the Belgian Grand Prix. In fact, I even contemplated the idea of Williams finishing ahead of Red Bull over the summer break. However, the team missed a big opportunity at Spa which, coupled with Daniel Ricciardo’s superb win, appears to leave that thesis dead in the water.

Williams’ big strength comes on the straights thanks to the grunt of the Mercedes engine and the design of the FW36 car. Valtteri Bottas passed Nico Rosberg twice at Spa because of this (although he did trail the championship leader home at the flag). The track also played against Ferrari, and when Fernando Alonso began to drop back through the field, the team looked resigned to lose position in the constructors’ championship once again.

In the end, it was Kimi Raikkonen – a man many thought had given up – who came to the rescue, finishing fourth to minimize the damage of Bottas’ podium finish. Alonso brought home a small haul of points down in seventh, while Felipe Massa’s race was ruined when debris from Lewis Hamilton’s car got caught in his Williams. He limped home in 13th place. If Lewis thinks he’s been unlucky this year, he ought to see what Felipe has been contesting with!

So Williams’ net loss at Spa was three points. Considering where the team was in 2013, it is remarkable that it even has Ferrari in sight, but this does put some extra pressure on the team for the race at Monza next weekend. The circuit is the fastest on the calendar, and should be a very happy hunting ground for those with a Mercedes engine. Bottas and Massa know that they must leave Ferrari’s home turf with third place in the constructors’ tucked under their arm.

As for Ferrari? Finishing fourth would be a great shame for the team that was expected to be Mercedes’ closest rival in 2014. However, it could have even bigger implications: rumour has it that Fernando Alonso has a get-out clause in his contract if the team finishes lower than P3 in the standings. With McLaren sniffing, Ferrari has a lot to fight for if said speculation is indeed true.

Just like the fight for the drivers’ title, you can expect this battle to run until the end of the season.

Ferrari, Mercedes launch 2018 F1 cars

Photo: Getty Images
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The title combatants from the 2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season both launched their 2018 challengers earlier on Thursday, with Scuderia Ferrari revealing the SF71H and Mercedes AMG Petronas revealing the W09.

For Ferrari, the SF71H represents an evolution of last year’s SF70H, which helped produce Ferrari’s best season in several years.

They presented a strong challenge to Mercedes for the championship, even leading the way at various points, with Sebastian Vettel recording five wins along the way. But, mechanical failures and crashes hampered their efforts late in the season, and they settled for second in the driver’s championship (with Vettel) and the constructor’s championship.

Entering 2018, the team is emphasizing the importance of building momentum with every race to ultimately secure their first constructor’s crown since 2008 and their first driver’s crown since 2007.

“There are no challenges actually. There are no challenges in the plural. There is just one challenge, which is the final challenge,” asserted team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. So that’s work that you build and you don’t build that work in one or two races. We’ve seen over the last few years, in the last championships, that you work race by race, and you always try to do the best you can.”

Technical director Mattia Binotto detailed some of the updates on the 2018 car, such as an new power unit and new suspension designs in anticipation of new tire constructions.

“We worked a lot on the power unit, we worked on its reliability and performance. We worked on the packaging, on suspensions in the rear axle because there will be new tires the following season, so we also tried to design the car to accommodate the new tires,” he explained.

Binotto added, “In regards to aerodynamics, we maintained our concept of having the inlets on the radiators, and everybody’s copying that, but we tried to make an additional step forward and what we showed today is not the same element of last year, but it is something more developed.”

Mercedes, meanwhile, will look to take it’s fifth consecutive driver’s and constructor’s championships with the W09. The team even took the car to the track for its launch, conducting a filming day at Silverstone Circuit.

“It is always a very exciting time because what has been designed is coming together and coming alive,”  team principal Toto Wolff said during the launch.

Despite facing challenges with last year’s car, the W08, the team elected to follow a similar design concept with the aerodynamics to improve on the car’s strengths while simultaneously addressing its weak points.

“We like some of the character traits from our diva,” Wolf quipped. “The W08 was the fastest car on the grid, scoring the highest number of pole positions and winning the most races last year. So we were careful not to lose the car’s many strengths just to overcome the difficulties.”

Both Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to slug it out again for the 2018 driver’s and constructor’s championships.

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