Red Bull's 2016 fightback is adding to the pressure being felt at Ferrari, as the Scuderia fights to retain its status as number one threat to Mercedes at the front of the F1 field.
With Daniel Ricciardo completing the Hungarian Grand Prix podium behind Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the weekend, and team-mate Max Verstappen splitting the Ferraris in fifth place, Red Bull has closed to within a point of the Maranello giant with just one race remaining before the summer break, but Ferrari senior performance engineer Jock Clear was already under no illusion of the task ahead of his team for the remainder of 2016.
“I have recent knowledge of the opposition, and a huge respect for what we are trying to beat,” he said of Mercedes, which he left to join Ferrari, “But our performance has come under a bit more scrutiny now that Red Bull are putting us under pressure, [which] is a testament to how strong they are as a team.”
Red Bull, courtesy of Verstappen's sensational debut win in Barcelona, remains the only team other than Mercedes to top the podium this season, but Clear insists that Ferrari – which has five second places amongst its nine podium appearances in 2016 – is not going backwards, despite frustrating results in the last few races.
“We haven't lost a huge amount of ground to the leaders,” Clear claimed, “If you look at it over the course of the last couple of races, in Canada we were very close and in Silverstone we were a long way off. I think we have learned a lot about some of the areas where the car is weak and that has helped us to identify where we need to work. We are under no illusion that Mercedes are going to continue to be strong and Red Bull are going to continue to be strong.”
Ferrari's push, not only to fend off the Red Bull challenge but also to close the gap on Mercedes and a potential win in 2016, will quickly be threatened by the need to focus on next season, with general paddock consensus suggesting that, once the summer break and Belgian Grand Prix are in the rear view mirror, most teams will switch resources to their 2017 cars.
“We are working as hard as we can on closing that gap and sorting out the issues but, as everybody has said already, we can't take our eyes off next year, because that's a big opportunity,” Clear confirmed, “We're now having to measure that resource and measure that balance between keeping some momentum [in 2016] - or looking to get some momentum later in the year - but also putting a lot of resource on what is a huge challenge for everybody next year.
“That balancing act is very difficult for all of us. As I say, it's just a testament to the guys at the front, how well they are continuing to develop and that puts us under pressure because we are not closing the gap as quickly as we'd want to be.”