Horner: Ferrari will favour a “clear number one” to beat Mercedes

2017 Russian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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For the first time in eight years Ferrari have swept the front row of the grid for an F1 race.

The 2017 season is shaping up to be their best shot at championship silverware since that title-winning campaign nine years ago. But though they won the constructors’ championship that year, the drivers’ title is the one they really value, and to increase the chances of a Ferrari racer winning it they may need to sacrifice one of them.

Qualifying in pictures
Red Bull’s Christian Horner, whose team fought Ferrari for titles in 2010 and 2012, believes his rivals already have made that decision. He told the BBC yesterday Mercedes will have to follow suit.

“I think the problem is you’ve got a very clear number one, number two scenario at Ferrari,” said Horner. “I would think they’re just finding out what the scenario is at Mercedes.”

“It looks like Lewis is obviously the stronger of the two drivers. In a particularly tight battle it could be a disadvantage. We saw in the last race if they’d have moved quicker they’d perhaps have been able to challenge Ferrari harder.”

In Bahrain both Ferrari and Mercedes used team orders to prevent one of their drivers from holding up the other. Mercedes were clearly more hesitant to do so, however.

But while it was Lewis Hamilton who benefited from the call at the last race, he’s been shaded by Valtteri Bottas all weekend in Russia. Bottas looked quicker on the long runs yesterday as well.

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While the qualifying showdown between Ferrari and Mercedes didn’t disappoint, the prospects of a close race are not as good. Ferrari’s long run pace has been their strong suit all season, so unless the Mercedes drivers get in between them at the start the red cars may just run and hide. They need only a single pit stop to go the distance, and the ultra-soft has performed so well it might not come until mid-race.

The first significant corner, turn two, has been a significant trouble spot on the first lap. Drivers have been warned, again, they must follow a designated route back onto the track if they go wide there, or risk receiving a penalty.

Is Vettel already thinking about what Lewis Hamilton did at turn one in Mexico last year? Committing to a run through the run-off area on lap one could be a clever way to shut down the last, best chance his rivals may have to keep him from victory.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’34.493 1’34.038 (-0.455) 1’33.194 (-0.844)
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’34.953 1’33.663 (-1.290) 1’33.253 (-0.410)
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’34.041 1’33.264 (-0.777) 1’33.289 (+0.025)
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’34.409 1’33.760 (-0.649) 1’33.767 (+0.007)
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’35.560 1’35.483 (-0.077) 1’34.905 (-0.578)
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1’35.828 1’35.049 (-0.779) 1’35.110 (+0.061)
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’35.301 1’35.221 (-0.080) 1’35.161 (-0.060)
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’35.507 1’35.328 (-0.179) 1’35.285 (-0.043)
9 Sergio Perez Force India 1’36.185 1’35.513 (-0.672) 1’35.337 (-0.176)
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 1’35.372 1’35.729 (+0.357) 1’35.430 (-0.299)
11 Carlos Sainz Jnr Toro Rosso 1’35.827 1’35.948 (+0.121)
12 Lance Stroll Williams 1’36.279 1’35.964 (-0.315)
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’35.984 1’35.968 (-0.016)
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1’36.408 1’36.017 (-0.391)
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1’36.353 1’36.660 (+0.307)
16 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1’36.462
17 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1’37.070
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1’37.332
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1’37.507
20 Romain Grosjean Haas 1’37.620

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 33.764 (3) 31.910 (1) 27.508 (3)
Kimi Raikkonen 33.835 (4) 32.053 (3) 27.315 (1)
Valtteri Bottas 33.624 (2) 32.050 (2) 27.398 (2)
Lewis Hamilton 33.517 (1) 32.147 (4) 27.788 (4)
Daniel Ricciardo 34.293 (7) 32.621 (7) 27.985 (10)
Felipe Massa 34.238 (5) 32.791 (8) 27.963 (8)
Max Verstappen 34.271 (6) 32.509 (5) 27.950 (6)
Nico Hulkenberg 34.625 (15) 32.599 (6) 27.868 (5)
Sergio Perez 34.363 (9) 32.805 (9) 27.969 (9)
Esteban Ocon 34.311 (8) 32.821 (10) 27.957 (7)
Carlos Sainz Jnr 34.536 (12) 32.834 (11) 28.143 (11)
Lance Stroll 34.390 (10) 33.142 (15) 28.333 (15)
Daniil Kvyat 34.573 (13) 33.057 (14) 28.184 (13)
Kevin Magnussen 34.460 (11) 33.004 (13) 28.346 (16)
Fernando Alonso 34.720 (16) 33.268 (17) 28.166 (12)
Jolyon Palmer 34.798 (17) 32.983 (12) 28.285 (14)
Stoffel Vandoorne 35.079 (20) 33.414 (18) 28.480 (17)
Pascal Wehrlein 34.860 (18) 33.553 (20) 28.787 (19)
Marcus Ericsson 34.890 (19) 33.466 (19) 28.766 (18)
Romain Grosjean 34.580 (14) 33.215 (16) 29.083 (20)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 331.2 (205.8)
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 331.0 (205.7) -0.2
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 330.4 (205.3) -0.8
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 329.9 (205.0) -1.3
5 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 329.5 (204.7) -1.7
6 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 328.3 (204.0) -2.9
7 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 327.5 (203.5) -3.7
8 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 326.1 (202.6) -5.1
9 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 325.5 (202.3) -5.7
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 324.5 (201.6) -6.7
11 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer 324.3 (201.5) -6.9
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 322.6 (200.5) -8.6
13 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber Ferrari 321.3 (199.6) -9.9
14 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG Heuer 320.8 (199.3) -10.4
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 319.9 (198.8) -11.3
16 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 319.5 (198.5) -11.7
17 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault 318.9 (198.2) -12.3
18 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 318.8 (198.1) -12.4
19 Carlos Sainz Jnr Toro Rosso Renault 317.9 (197.5) -13.3
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 317.4 (197.2) -13.8

Remaining tyres

Driver Team Soft Super-soft Ultra-soft
New Used New Used New Used
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0 1 2 0 0 3
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0 1 2 0 0 3
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 0 1 2 0 0 3
Max Verstappen Red Bull 0 1 2 0 0 3
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0 1 1 1 0 3
Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 0 1 1 1 0 3
Sergio Perez Force India 1 0 1 0 0 4
Esteban Ocon Force India 1 0 1 0 0 4
Felipe Massa Williams 0 1 1 0 0 4
Lance Stroll Williams 0 1 1 0 1 4
Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 0 1 0 1 4
Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1 0 1 0 3 2
Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 0 1 0 1 4
Carlos Sainz Jnr Toro Rosso 1 0 1 0 1 4
Romain Grosjean Haas 0 1 1 0 3 2
Kevin Magnussen Haas 0 1 1 0 1 4
Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 0 1 0 0 4
Jolyon Palmer Renault 0 1 1 0 3 2
Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 0 1 0 3 2
Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1 0 1 0 3 2

Over to you

Do you think Ferrari or Mercedes are already operating strict ‘number one’ roles, or is it too early in the season for tactics like this?

And who will come out on top in the battle to be best of the rest behind them? Share your views on the Russian Grand Prix in the comments.

2017 Russian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “Horner: Ferrari will favour a “clear number one” to beat Mercedes”

  1. There’s a lot more evidence to demonstrate that Mercedes treat Hamilton as a “clear number one” than there is that Ferrari do so with Vettel.

    1. Exactly. Moreover, Vettel has been clearly ahead of Raikkonen in most of the races off his own steam since their partnership began.

  2. Is he under the impression Silver Arrows wont do the same? then must be seriously stoned.

  3. “RB13: unlucky for some”

    that must be really painful at the moment.

    1. 13 crops up many times in our daily life and we are unaware of it. For example there is a thirteenth EFTPOS transaction every day at every shops you frequent, a 13th pair of wires in the phone cable in the street outside your house, there is a 13th shop in the shopping mall, there is a 13th floor on many high rise buildings, a thirteenth row of seats on an aircraft or bus, there is a 13th every month, car registration plates that only have the digits “13”, a mobile phone that has “0013” in the serial number, a thirteenth year of every century, etc. I think it would be impossible to avoid having a “13” somewhere in your daily life.
      I think the best way to deal with the superstition is to treat it as a normal number.

      1. Yeah, but that’s their own slogan from the car launch ;)

      2. A lot of Asian hotels skip certain floors (13 included) due to superstition. Even though, of course, physically it’s the 13th floor, but the numbering they use skips it completely, as though it doesn’t exist.

        1. Racenumber 13 was skipped too. And then came Pastor

    2. @antoine-de-paris At least it’s not really as bad as Red Bull are beaTEN.

  4. We saw in the last race if they’d have moved quicker they’d perhaps have been able to challenge Ferrari harder.

    Has he watched China where Vettel was stuck and had to overtake Raikkonen? Probably cost him a shot at victory after an unlucky SC too. Is that the team with clear #1 or is it the other team that ordered their driver to let his teammate through twice in the last race he was talking about?

  5. ‘A 1-2 for the team is not bad’ – Kimi Raikkonen.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      29th April 2017, 18:20

      I noticed him say this. If it’s not bad, he’s making it sound like it is nothing special. But a 1-2 start couldn’t be any better for Ferrari!

    2. He was elated! I think you would have to set Kimi’s pants on fire to get any more excitement from him.

  6. The more the Red Bull car is off the pace, the more nonsense Christian Horner spouts. Shades of 2015 here.

    1. @phylyp – If Red Bull can’t make headlines with their car, Horner will with his mouth.

      Funny thing is, if the situation were reversed Horner would be the first to deny the existence of any such favored driver status in their team.

      1. @bullmello – this quote of yours is superb!

        If Red Bull can’t make headlines with their car, Horner will with his mouth

      2. Makes sense, RBR really is just a marketing arm for an energy-drinks company. Their entire purpose is to generate headlines with “Red Bull” in the title.

  7. MG421982 (@)
    29th April 2017, 18:37

    From time to time Horner is a joker! So far, RAI “messed up” things enough to remain behind VET, so there was no need to impose a true 1-2 protocol at Ferrari… while it wasn’t the case at Mercedes!! Only last race BOT was told twice to let HAM past… Now, BOT… 4th in the standings… qualifies ahead of HAM again, so Mercedes seems to be the team that need a 1-2 protocol… and they need it now… if they don’t want to let VET win the WDC even before the last race.

    1. Hmm, and what driver do you want to have the n°1 status? Bottas is new in the team, cars are new and very different, and the guy beat his teammate on qualification twice already. His race pace can improve as he learns the Mercedes-specific handling. While Mercedes can’t be totally wrong by favouring Hamilton, it isn’t a given Lewis will be able to fight the Ferraris better than Bottas, who is better used to race with other cars in front of his. If a team choses too soon, technical issues or evolution can harm them in the long run. If they let them race, it can hurt too, if the teammates hold each other up. So I would let the team decide to get both cars as fast as possible, disregarding the points tally, for now.

      1. MG421982 (@)
        29th April 2017, 20:08

        Well… none… for the sake of racing, plus I’m no Mercedes/HAM/BOT fan! I’m a Ferrari/VET/RAI fan, so the Mercedes drivers “taking” precious points from each other works fantastic for VET/Ferrari in order to win the WDC, at least.

      2. I agree that it is a bit too early to decide which, if any, driver should be taken as the No1 driver at Mercedes. So far Bottas has shown good pace in qualifying and that is encouraging. However I notice a lot of people are arguing that maybe he should be the No1, basing it on the fact Bottas has finished ahead of Hamilton in two qualifying sessions.

        However Lewis has had two poles, finishing ahead of Bottas twice in qualifying also and that cannot be discounted. More significantly in the first three races Hamilton has finished ahead of Bottas in each one and that is where the points are.

        For anyone who wishes to argue, Mercedes ordered Bottas to allow Lewis to pass twice in China, the simple response has to be if in each race the teams are aiming to maximise the points they can get, then such team orders will be given at times. Bottas had no pace in China and what made it more worrying is even in his third stint he was slow without any apparent reason. Furthermore Mercedes being indecisive and allowing Bottas to pit first, which is their protocol, may have cost them a win. Because as difficult as it is to make such a decision in hindsight the best decision they could have made in regards to points would have been to let Lewis pit first. Which would have meant no penalty for Lewis and he would have taken a few more seconds off the time it would have taken him to complete the race, which may have meant a win.

        Sometimes these choices have to be made and probably the best example of always trying to give equal status to drivers being a problem, is when Whitmarsh refused to favour Hamilton over Button despite Lewis having a significant points advantage over his team mate at that stage of the season and ultimately this cost McLaren points, the WDC and possibly the constructors too.

        In regards to the argument that Bottas is new at Mercedes but matching his team mate. I think that we are forgetting that there have been many changes to the car and it could well be that the car is equally unfamiliar to Lewis as it is to Valterri.

        I think someone on here recently said that maybe Lewis has his car set up for the race and I am now thinking this could actually be the case. In qualifying he was the quickest in sector one, but the other two sectors he somehow lost a lot of time whilst the converse was true for the three cars ahead of him. Surely this suggests one of two things, the other drivers are either much better in the last two sectors or his car was set up differently? Different set up would also explain Bottas’s lack of pace in the actual race in China.

        So for me it is a bit too early to make any call, but as it stands Lewis Hamilton has a slight advantage over his team mate.

        1. @Kwaw

          Furthermore Mercedes being indecisive and allowing Bottas to pit first, which is their protocol, may have cost them a win. Because as difficult as it is to make such a decision in hindsight the best decision they could have made in regards to points would have been to let Lewis pit first.

          This was not really possible. Bottas was ahead of Hamilton. There was a SC, so HAM could not overtake BOT even with a team order. So the only possibility to pit HAM ahead of BOT would have been to leave BOT out and have only HAM pit. This would have ruined the race for BOT (he would have been last if he had stopped in the lap after, or he would have to take a pit stop at racing speed later, which would have dropped him to the back (or almost the back) as well.

          Team orders to let one car by another is one thing if the “Number 2” loses one place only. But to ruin the race just to give the “Number 1” driver a shot at a win is something that very few teams would do. Except maybe in the last race and the championship is at stake (Massa at Brazil 2012 for example).

  8. Ferrari, Seb fan
    29th April 2017, 19:50

    I thought that Ferrari and Mercedes needed a 1st driver but the two Finns showed us that they can fight against Vettel and Hamilton.

    1. MG421982 (@)
      29th April 2017, 20:13

      Did we see the same races?! Only BOT showed he can fight against HAM, RAI was beaten fair and square by VET every race so far. The way things look at the moment, Ferrari doesn’t even need a 1-2 contract, but I’m not so sure about Mercedes. Not giving their drivers no.1 and no.2 status might handle the WDC to Ferrari. It’s their choice what’s more important: the WDC or give their drivers the freedom to race each other.

    2. I thought that Ferrari and Mercedes needed a 1st driver but the two Finns showed us that they can fight against Vettel and Hamilton.

      Raikkonen has not really ‘fought’ Vettel since they have been together. Don’t get me wrong – I like the Finn and believe that he has the talent to challenge any driver on the grid today but what he lacks – unlike some of the other recent WDCs is the motivation to do so. IMO. Raikkonen is not the type of a man to bruise his knuckles trying to get ahead in this cutthroat sport.

  9. Horner says a lot of stupid stuff lately like the thing he said about Alonso and Indy 500. There’s zero evidence of that for once. Also he doesn’t understand who Kimi is. He doesn’t mind helping his teammate if he’s fighting for the championship like he did for Massa in China 2008, but he definitely isn’t the Massa or Barrichello type. The moment he feels he’s being treated like a clear number 2, at beginning of the season at that he’ll quit immediately Montoya 2006 style. That’s a complication Ferrari doesn’t need even if it feels it could be beneficial to have a clear number 1

  10. “The 2016 is shaping up to be their best shot at championship silverware since that title-winning campaign eight years ago.”
    “The 2017 is shaping up to be their best shot at championship silverware since that title-winning campaign nine years ago.”

    Time flies, @keithcollantine , time flies.

    1. @mike-dee weirdly enough both are neither quite wrong nor contradictory (apart from the [past tense needed for the 2016 statement)

  11. Looks like RBR are so far behind that Christian got a little bored and can now afford to talk about other teams’ strategies. I guess for him it’s a lot simpler: do whatever it takes to keep Max happy. Not that it matters, anyway.

  12. Takeitlightly
    29th April 2017, 23:49

    Few more races and Horner and Marko will once again use their famous “We are going to leave the sport”… this time their demand will be MAKE US CHAMPION or we will quit!… i guess Newey is getting rusty…

    1. You must have missed the article here after Bahrain, which was about RBR threatening to leave F1 once again.

  13. Alex Nicklisch
    30th April 2017, 2:32

    “In Bahrain both Ferrari and Mercedes used team orders to prevent one of their drivers from holding up the other. Mercedes were clearly more hesitant to do so, however.”

    I think that is a misleading statement. Those calls very made in very different conditions. Vet was not ‘racing’ Rai – Rai still had to stop and had no hope of catching Vet. Those sort of calls do not fall into the category of ‘team orders’ – at least not in the somewhat controversial and/or ‘number-one’ status conferring sense that is being invoked in this article. On the other hand, even though Bottas was clearly the slower of the two, he and Hamilton were racing for position (both times), and Bottas potentially could have kept him behind and battled for second position (especially given Ham’s penalty). So, whatever one thinks of the significance of those calls, it was not comparable to Ferrari’s.

    And that is not even to mention last race where Vet spent nearly ten laps behind Rai in China, and only got passed with a fine (drs free) overtake. And while I know they were both being held up by Ric, Vet was also clearly the faster driver that weekend, and had only gotten flushed behind Rai b/c of the safety car. So, a team order there might have been similarly understandable to Merc’s call in Bahrain. But Ferarri did not do it. So, if anything, it seems to me that Ferrari have proven to be more hesistant to use team orders.

    On another note, didn’t Merc make a similar call last year in Monaco when Nico was struggling with brake or tyre temps? That didn’t cement him as a number two driver. I think it was an understandable call, and that Mercedes would/should make the same call the other way round under similar circumstances. Though it would be interesting to see if Ham would be quite as “magnanimous”.

    1. Agree. The “do not hold up HAM” order to BOT may even have been given if a driver from another team would have come at great speed. Fighting also slows you down, and if it is obvious that you don’t stand a chance, it can sometimes be the best to just let the other driver pass easily.

  14. Great to see Bieber-Hamilton with some competition.

    I wonder though how Ferrari have taken such a big step forward given their performance or lack thereof in the last few years.

    It reminds me of 2009 and the amazing performance of Brawn after taking over from the hapless BAR Honda team.

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