It would be an understatement to say that Ferrari has not had the opening to the 2016 Formula 1 season that it had hoped for. Having come in to the new campaign brazen about wanting a winning start, that Mercedes has taken all the poles and all race victories so far has come as a disappointment.

There have been other headaches too – including reliability problems for both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, and of course the points lost with the China/Russia incidents with Daniil Kvyat.

But perhaps of more concern is that the trend of performance has not pointed towards a narrowing of the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari – as the Silver Arrows advantage seemed greater than it had been any point this season in Russia.

So with the results against it, and it seemingly having no response in pace terms, the cynics are already suggesting that it is game over for Ferrari's 2016 title ambitions.

But that is not how Maranello itself sees the situation: and it still has reason to believe not only that there is plenty to play for this season: but that it can take the fight to Mercedes.

Pressure game

Ferrari is well aware that it needs to quickly make up lost ground in both championship standings (Mercedes has more than double its point haul) and pace terms.

But rather than be downbeat about what has happened, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene still senses opportunities: especially with Mercedes appearing to be on the edge in reliability terms.

And it this area that he thinks needs to be exploited to give Ferrari the opening it needs.

"If you have before you a team that has won four races out of four, you cannot but take note that they are very strong," he said after the Russian Grand Prix.

"But if we look at what happened to [Lewis] Hamilton [with engine problems in qualifying], we see that they also have had reliability problems.

"We must put pressure on them. That is our first goal.

"All their problems have happened on a single car, while ours have happened on both. But there are still 17 races to go, that is something worth emphasising, so there time to make up the difference."

Power battle

Ferrari introduced an upgraded engine at the Russian Grand Prix that it hoped would lift it closer to Mercedes in the power stakes.

But the weekend appeared to show that wasn't the case, with Mercedes' advantage on the Sochi circuit – the fourth most power-sensitive venue on the calendar – appearing bigger than ever.

It was a state of affairs that was not ideal, but for Arrivabene, Russia was no grounds to think its efforts had been in vane.

"We had a new rear wing, which was not used on Saturday or Sunday because there was the need to develop the DRS, and we didn't want to take any risks," added Arrivabene. "We used the new front wing though.

"On the power unit front, the decision was made to bring the updated engine because we knew the track was not one that traditionally suited us best.

"If we had had the opportunity to qualify in a better position, then maybe the outcome of the race would have been different. But the feedback on fastest laps were good."

In fact, it is only at the extreme power tracks that Arrivabene thinks Ferrari is actually lacking.

"It is obvious that Mercedes is very strong – I have said it before and I will repeat it. But there are tracks at which we can put them under pressure – as happened in Melbourne which was a race we could have won.

"But on other circuits there is still a gap: especially Sochi and places like Spa."

Development pace key

For now, Ferrari must work to maximise opportunities: which means eliminating reliability woes and ensuring that its pace of development is greater than Mercedes.

Spain is not such a power sensitive track, so should at least give us a proper idea of where the Ferrari/Mercedes battle stacks up for now.

One factor that could work against Ferrari though is that while Mercedes still has 11 engine development tokens remaining for this season, Ferrari is down to six.

So in theory the scope to improve is not as great: at least until the end of the campaign – with token use getting abolished for 2017.

When asked if this limit could be a problem for 2016, Arrivabene said: "I do not know but it is a problem that fortunately for next year will no longer be there.

"I think at Maranello, if we compare this season to 2015, a great job has been done on this front. And I believe that today our power unit is not lagging behind Mercedes."

But being behind is not what Ferrari came in to 2016 to be: it wanted to be ahead.

For now the team still believes it can do better. Now it is time to turn that faith in to hard results on track.


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