Sebastian Vettel says that Ferrari remains focused on catching and beating Mercedes this season, rather than shifting its attention to the possible threat from Red Bull Racing.
The German, speaking ahead of this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix, maintained that the Scuderia was looking forward rather than back, despite Red Bull taking victory in the recent Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. Max Verstappen's victory – in his first race for RBR – was slightly fortuitous as it relied heavily on Mercedes team-mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton taking themselves out on lap one, but the young Dutchman led both Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel across the line, with long-time leader Daniel Ricciardo bringing the other Red Bull home in fourth.
Vettel, however, has his own explanation for Ferrari missing the chance to break its duck for 2016, and believes that it will again establish itself as the clear rival to Mercedes.
“I think our aim is still looking forward and, in that regard, our aim is still Mercedes,” he confirmed, “I think, in Barcelona, we had a bad Saturday which explained a difficult race on Sunday. In terms of raw speed, I think we should have been ahead [of Red Bull], but we weren't. I said on the day 'well done to them' and well done, in particular, to Max, but we move on. I think we have a strong package of new bits here and there and we obviously want to make progress and want to make sure we close the gap to Mercedes rather than looking at what's going on behind.”
Vettel backed up his assertion by claiming that the SF16-H was already an improvement over last year's car, but he accepted that no-one on the F1 grid was resting on their laurels.
“I think we've made a step forward, simply with more grip,” he explained, “We've increased the downforce and worked a lot on the kinematics of the car, so I think we've done a very big step forwards and it is a lot better than last year but, equally, you have to accept the challenge that other people have improved their cars as well. I am sure that, if we raced with this year's car last year, we would win the championship by a country mile, but it is not the case [in 2016]. Everybody else in the pit-lane is probably telling you the same story. You need to be there when it matters, and we are still a little bit behind, but all our focus – here at the track, back in Maranello – is to make sure that we improve our car and close the gap. Are we quick enough yet? Not yet.”
Remarkably, Ferrari has not won in Monaco since Michael Schumacher triumphed in 2001, and Vettel is hoping that the Principality's unique layout can help mask any deficiencies the current Maranello package may have.
“I think it is one of the place where it is difficult to read the strength of the car or the weakness of the car,” the German noted, “I think it is a place where the driver can make more of a difference, a place where you need to have the confidence as a driver to be able to make the difference. Of course, it is important which car you have [to determine] how confident you are, but the level of confidence going round the track, the trust in the circuit, is probably more important here because that allows you to extract a little bit more compared to 'normal' racetracks. The car is probably not as important here as it is in Barcelona, for example.”
Like Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, Vettel will be chasing his second Monaco win this weekend, having triumphed for Red Bull back in 2011.