F1 2016: Why Sebastian Vettel can beat Hamilton and Rosberg


Sebastian Vettel was the only driver to hold a candle to Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the 2015 Formula One season. Even then, Ferrari's four-time world champion was more accustomed to the lowest step on the podium than anywhere else.

Ferrari getting to grips with hybrid power to take their place back as an F1 frontrunner was a positive to come out of a season that not only saw little competition at the front of the grid, but similarly low levels of fight within that leading team as Hamilton outclassed Rosberg at almost every turn.

The Scuderia's improvements look to have continued into the forthcoming campaign, and - believe it or not - a fifth drivers' crown for Vettel may not be out of the question.

Eight days of testing in Barcelona gave plenty of clues as to how the prancing horses will rival the Silver Arrows, including Ferrari's impressive use of ultrasoft and supersoft tyres.

A test in Abu Dhabi at the back end of last season gave several drivers, including Vettel and stable-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the chance to try out F1's new boots - something Mercedes opted against as test driver Pascal Wehrlein, who lines up for Manor this year, took the spot.

With knowledge of the quickest compounds under his belt, Vettel put together runs on both ultrasoft and supersoft tyres that no other driver in Barcelona was able to beat for distance.

This is further telling when considering how Vettel won in Malaysia last season - his first race triumph in the red car.

Perhaps complacent after their dominant 2014, Mercedes took a conservative approach with Hamilton and Rosberg, hoping that a three-stop strategy would be enough, only for Vettel's management of high-wear rubber to allow him to pit just twice and round out an impressive win.

Vettel's subsequent successes in Hungary and Singapore were respectively owed to an error-strewn Hamilton meltdown and the Marina Bay circuit's unsuitability for overtaking.

Both times Vettel had to be in it to win it, which he almost invariably is due to freakish consistency and reliability.

Vettel completed 1,127 of the 2015 season's 1,149 laps (98 per cent), more than any other driver. He only failed to finish when a tyre failed at Spa, before crashing out of a Mexican Grand Prix from which he would have likely left pointless anyway.

A revitalised Rosberg pushing Hamilton harder than ever could open more doors for Vettel in 2016, and the latter has already proved he is the man to capitalise, leading 176 laps last season - the only driver other than the Mercedes duo to get into triple figures.

Of course Vettel's chances will ultimately be underpinned by how the SF16-H performs underneath him in comparison to a F1 W07 that Mercedes have claimed has a power unit twice as efficient as those being run in the last season of aspirated engines - just three seasons ago.

Ferrari's ability to produce a power unit that could win a race last season has allowed them to now focus on perfecting an aerodynamic package that will help them to be as versatile as Mercedes.

Their performance over eight days at the Circuit de Catalunya - a challenging aero track - may well show that the gap has been narrowed, if not closed.

Headlines were hogged by Ferrari posting the quickest lap times of the two tests, but their performance in long runs is evidence that the playing field has been levelled.

Research done by Sky Sports F1 at Barcelona showed that Raikkonen and Vettel had gone quicker that Rosberg and Hamilton in some 20+-lap stints.

And while some detractors may scoff at the results and claim Mercedes were not at their best, bear in mind that it would surely have been equally foolhardy for the Scuderia to run at their maximum when it matters none.

Vettel has proven he is a supreme racer in the past. His titles in 2010 and 2012 were far from the cakewalks he is unfairly associated with, won by four and three points from his Ferrari predecessor Fernando Alonso each time.

He has the mettle. If Ferrari are able to grasp the nettle, 2016 could well be the year of Vettel.