The noises coming from the Ferrari camp ahead of the 2016 Formula One season are fuelling speculation that this could be the year Sebastian Vettel reclaims the World Championship title from Lewis Hamilton.
It is a decade since Vettel began his Formula One career as BMW Sauber’s third driver, showing his ability as a test driver for a team that included Jacques Villeneuve and Robert Kubica.
Now, he is one of the sport’s most recognisable faces, having won the World Championship four times between 2010 and 2013, but Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have denied him a trophy he was making his own in the last two seasons.
Ahead of the competition’s 2016 edition, the odds from online bookmaker Bet365 makes Ferrari 7/2 to win the constructors’ championship with Mercedes at 2/9. Vettel is priced at 4/1 to pick up his fifth drivers’ championship title, but he will be out to defy the odds that have Lewis Hamilton at 4/7 for the sport’s biggest prize.
Ferrari improved its power unit in 2015 and pushed Mercedes hard, with Vettel trailing second-placed Nico Rosberg by just 44 points in the final driver standings. This season the competition could get even tighter, as Ferrari prepare a number of changes that could see the team’s car going head-to-head with Mercedes on an equal footing.
The introduction of pushrod front suspension is one of the most significant adjustments that the Ferrari drive will benefit from, and the car will also feature a shorter nose that will make Ferrari’s front end somewhere between the length of Mercedes and Toro Rosso’s 2015 cars.
Lower sidepods and a narrower rear end, known as a ‘coke bottle’ style rear design, along with a narrower gearbox, should help Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen make inroads into the Mercedes dominance of recent seasons, but it is the further modifications Ferrari has made to its power unit that will make the biggest difference.
The improved air/fuel mixture during combustion that is afforded by Ferrari’s new variable inlet trumpets will bring the engine much closer to the standard of Mercedes. The accompanying aerodynamic improvements to the car could also make for some fascinating contests between the two teams in this season’s big races.
The last time Vettel lifted the most coveted prize in motorsports in 2013, he was completing his fifth season at Red Bull Racing and his World Championship victory came in somewhat controversial circumstances.
Vettel incurred the wrath of Formula One fans following an incident in which he ignored orders from his crew not to pass teammate Mark Webber in the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, and went on to win the race. He became the target of booing from disgruntled fans, who pursued him from race to race and were seemingly unhappy at the manner in which Vettel was going about winning the Drivers’ Championship.
The sport is in a very different state now, with plenty of controversies and dramas having long since taken attention away from Vettel. It’s quite possible that he could reclaim a place as one of motorsport’s most popular figures if he plays his cards right and performs at his best this season.