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Will Red Bull or Ferrari be the first to beat Mercedes on a regular basis - and will it be in 2016?
Posted on 17 June 2016
By James Allen
The recent Grands Prix in Spain, Monaco and Canada have shown that the chasing pack is closing in on Mercedes, the dominant team since 2014. Max Verstappen won in Spain, his Red Bull Racing team mate Daniel Ricciardo should have won in Monaco and Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari had a good chance to win in Canada. So is the turning of the tide about to happen and which team is best placed?
If we look at Red Bull first, the win in Spain was largely down to the two Mercedes drivers colliding on the opening lap in Barcelona. This left Ferrari vs Red Bull and the Austrian team made a strategy call which gave the win to Verstappen, who did a superb job to keep the tyres alive with a long stint to win the race and hold off Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. The Ferrari was slightly faster in Barcelona, but Red Bull took the honours; the only team apart from Mercedes to win a race this season.
Monaco was different. Daniel Ricciardo used the new upgraded Renault engine to good effect to take pole position and had the race under control until his team made some strategic errors and then lost him the race with a slow pit stop because the tyres were not ready.
The Red Bull certainly had the mechanical grip and the responsiveness in the chassis to beat Mercedes in Monaco and this looks likely to be the case in Hungary and Singapore as well. These are the two races Red Bull is most likely to win in 2016. The new Renault engine gives the car about 0.4s a lap faster than before. This has pushed Red Bull closer, but it's still about 30kw down on the Mercedes in outright power. That's why Hungary and Singapore, where the engine is less important are the races they can win his year.
So what about Ferrari? Well the red team has made a massive step forward with its car and engine this season, but a win has eluded them so far. They've had chances in Australia, Spain and Montreal but not landed the big prize due to strategy calls mainly. They are probably closer to catching Mercedes on all circuits than Red Bull, as their engine is more powerful. But they lack a little still on the aerodynamic side.
Attention now focuses on the 2017 cars, as the rules are set to change dramatically, especially on the chassis and aerodynamics side. This needs a lot of resource and that takes away from the development time teams can spend the 2016 cars. I suspect Ferrari will close a little more on the Mercedes before the end of the season and they are likely to win a race or two, but all three teams have to think about 2017 and having the best car possible.
My hunch is that Red Bull will be the team to beat next season as they are the best at aerodynamics and in next year's rules the aero is more of a performance differentiator than today
What do you think?
Leading Formula One™ commentator and journalist, James Allen is a contributing writer for Singapore GP Pte Ltd