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Can Ferrari truly challenge Red Bull this F1 season?

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F1 Grand Prix of Australia

After their own 1-2 finish in Australia, can Ferrari really put the pressure to Red Bull this season?

We are three races into the Formula 1 season.

While much remains the same from 2024 — Red Bull is leading the Constructors’ Championship and Max Verstappen is atop the Drivers’ standings — recent events have shaken the field up a bit. Mercedes is floundering, McLaren is strong, and Ferrari has certainly closed the gap to Red Bull.

Then there is a fascinating fight shaping up in the midfield, one that has Visa Cash App RB F1 Team in front at the moment thanks to a strong drive from Yuki Tsunoda in the Australian Grand Prix.

With so much on the line, and a short break until the Japanese Grand Prix, this is a good time to take stock of where each team stands at the moment. But rather than a simple review, we’ll look at the biggest question facing each team right now.

So far, the questions have largely been on the negative side of the ledger. Earlier this week we took a look at Alpine, asking how quickly progress will come for a team desperately needing a step forward. We also asked whether Sauber can fix a pit stop issue that has plagued them in each of the season’s first three races.

On Wednesday we asked whether Williams would be facing a hangover after everything they went through in Australia, whether Haas had truly eliminated their biggest gremlin from last season and yes, just how hot the seat really is under Daniel Ricciardo.

We started Thursday with a look at Aston Martin. then it was a look at their power unit supplier, Mercedes. Sure it is early, but is it already too late for the Silver Arrows?

However, Thursday afternoon the questions turned positive. It started with McLaren, and whether they can maintain their red-hot start.

Now we turn to perhaps the most positive question of all.

Ferrari: Can they beat Red Bull?

It is not as outlandish a thought as it might sound at the start.

There have been signs that Ferrari could mount a serious challenge this year dating back to pre-season testing. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc finished one-two on the timing sheets, and while pre-season testing results always require the biggest grains of salt — and the Ferrari duo laid down those times on a tire compound that would not be available the following week — it was still a strong performance.

More importantly, the drivers felt much more confident in the SF-24 than they did its predecessor. the SF-23.

“The car is reacting the way that we wanted it to, but it is still difficult to assess its level of competitiveness right now. The feeling is better than the base we started from last year. Now, it’s full focus on the race and I can’t wait to be back on track next week,” said Leclerc following testing.

“We can be pleased with what we’ve achieved during this test, both in terms of the mileage covered and the raft of data it has provided. On top of that, both Charles and Carlos were happy with how things went. These were three productive days, with no technical problems, which is what you want most, especially when it’s the only session before the start of the season,” added Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

“Our first goal was to see if the SF-24 performed predictably, not being overly sensitive to variations in the external conditions and that it was easy to drive. From what Charles and Carlos have said and looking at the consistency of their performance over a long run, it seems we were successful on this front,” continued the Ferrari boss. “It’s very important to have the car behave like this as it means the driver can quickly get an understanding of its characteristics and then get the most out of it.”

Of course, the bigger question was what would happen when the time counted for real.

Ferrari delivered the following week, with Leclerc qualifying in second and Sainz behind him in fourth. In the race itself it was Sainz who grabbed the final podium spot — in the wake of a Red Bull one-two — but Leclerc’s fourth-place finish is certainly of note. The Ferrari driver struggled with his brakes early in the race, complaining early and often of the SF-24 pulling to the right when breaking, but he stayed calm and patient.

As the situation eased in the second part of the race, Leclerc delivered a strong finish for the team, signs of growth and maturity as a driver. This was reminiscent to many of his performance in the 2023 finale, when he worked through the various scoring permutations as the laps ticked down in Abu Dhabi, trying to find a way to deliver second for Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship.

Then in Saudi Arabia, it was another strong weekend for the team, albeit under difficult circumstances. With Sainz facing an emergency appendectomy for appendicitis, reserve driver Ollie Bearman — all of 18 years old — climbed into the SF-24 for his first F1 qualifying session after just an hour of practice.

He advanced to Q2 and started the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in P11.

In the race itself it was Leclerc who grabbed the third podium spot — again following a Red Bull one-two — but in his debut Bearman finished seventh, banking six critical points for the team. Even more impressive? The young driver held off fellow countrymen Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages, despite driving on older tires.

Then came Australia. There were signs that Ferrari would pose a serious challenge to Red Bull early in the week, as some race pace simulations showed that the Scuderia could truly bring the fight to Red Bull. And while Max Verstappen held off the field for pole position, Sainz captured P2 alongside Verstappen just over two weeks after his surgery. With Leclerc starting in fifth, Ferrari was in position for another big chunk of points.

In the race itself, it did not take long for Sainz to get by Verstappen. On just the second lap of the Australian Grand Prix Sainz pulled past his old Toro Rosso teammate, and when Verstappen’s RB20 started smoking from the right rear, it was clear the door was open for a scarlet afternoon in Melbourne.

Verstappen would retire, and Sainz would cruise to victory. But not to be outdone, Leclerc made up a number of spots, giving Ferrari a one-two of their own.

Now, with the grid heading to Japan, Ferrari sits just four points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship.

Of course, these are early days. We are just three races into a 24-race marathon. We have seen “challengers,” to Red Bull before, such as Aston Martin a season ago. Two years ago it was Ferrari who posed the big threat in the early going, as the Scuderia actually led Red Bull after four races.

A series of blunders and breakdowns would be their downfall, and cost former team boss Mattia Binotto his position.

That might be why Vasseur cautioned this week that the team needs to keep a measured outlook, and not get carried away.

“We were not disappointed with our results in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, nor are we getting carried away because of this one-two finish,” said Vasseur. “We must continue with this approach in the coming races because that’s the only way we are going to get the results we want.”

Still, for a sport — and a fanbase — clamoring for a title fight it is hard not to dream. The last two seasons saw Red Bull pull away from the field, leaving little doubt at the front of the grid on a week-to-week basis. Given the growth that Ferrari has shown from last season to this moment, and given how well both Sainz and Leclerc and performing at the moment, and given how comfortable they have seemed in the SF-24, you cannot fault Ferrari fans for daring to dream.

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