MONACO (AP) Having closed the gap to dominant Mercedes in an incredibly close-fought Formula One season, Ferrari has another burning ambition: Winning the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Italian manufacturer’s barren spell in Monaco dates to Michael Schumacher’s win in 2001, and four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel is determined to put that right.
“I would say it is about time that Ferrari wins again here,” said Vettel, who has 44 career wins.
“If you could have the freedom to choose any race on the calendar that you would want to win, it would without doubt be Monaco. Ask up and down the paddock and you would get the same answer.”
Schumacher, who won a record seven world titles and 91 races, also won at Monaco driving for Ferrari in 1997 and ’99.
Vettel’s Monaco win was in 2011, when driving for Red Bull. He was fourth here for Ferrari last year while teammate Kimi Raikkonen did not finish the race. In 2015, the year he joined Ferrari, Vettel was second and Raikkonen was sixth.
Ferrari has stepped up the pace this year and, with increased reliability, is matching Mercedes, which has won the last three drivers’ and constructors’ titles.
After five races, Vettel leads the championship by six points from Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton; while Mercedes is eight ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ race.
But Ferrari may be a bit quicker than Mercedes this year, and the increased pressure has forced some uncharacteristic errors.
During the second practice on Thursday, Mercedes made a sloppy mistake when misjudging a tire switch onto the quicker ultra-soft compound. That allowed Ferrari to top the charts in P2, with Vettel fastest and Raikkonen third.
“It is important to start from the front of the grid, here more than anywhere else,” Vettel said. “I am not counting out Mercedes. I am sure they will be back to full force on Saturday (for qualifying).”
Ferrari’s vastly improved reliability suits Vettel perfectly. The German driver is remarkably consistent if the car allows him to be – like it was when he won four straight titles with Red Bull. But he is also quickly irritated when the car lets him down, as it often did last year.
There have been no Vettel tirades over the race radio. He has placed in the top two in all five races, winning in Australia and Bahrain.
“The single-lap pace is very promising,” Vettel said. “The aim is to get faster.”
Vettel’s confidence has definitely returned, along with some of his old panache.
At the Spanish GP two weeks ago, he was being held up by Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and could not find a way past. So he tried a move from his karting days; a dummy move from right to left and then swiftly back right again to pass Bottas on the inside.
It is highly unlikely there will be a repeat of that on Sunday, given that the narrow and sinewy Monaco street circuit is arguably the hardest track in F1 to overtake on. Drivers are often brushing the barriers anyway, and this year’s wider cars make that an even more perilous possibility.
“Here you are not entirely the master of your own fate, as many things can happen in a long race,” said Vettel, who has twice been forced to retire during the Monaco GP. “Let’s keep the fingers crossed.”