Why Ferrari are favourites to beat Mercedes and secure second in the constructors championship

Mercedes and Ferrari go head-to-head for second place in the 2023 F1 constructors' championship

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With nearly everything related to the 2023 F1 world championship already confirmed, Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix focuses more on the fight for minor placings.

Particular attention will be placed on the battle for second in the constructors’ standings between Mercedes and Ferrari, with the two teams separated by four points heading into the Abu Dhabi GP.

Although second isn’t regarded with the same fanfare as winning the constructors’ title outright, price money given to each team is up for grabs when lights go out in Abu Dhabi, with wind tunnel time also decided.

Saturday’s qualifying session saw neither a Mercedes nor Ferrari on pole despite showing promising speed in practice. Still, Charles Leclerc’s excellent second run has put him second on the grid, whilst George Russell is the highest of the Mercedes in fourth.

But how will the battle for second play out?

Recent form favours the prancing horse

The 2023 F1 season hasn’t been a vintage one for either Ferrari or Mercedes, as the combination of Red Bull and Max Verstappen has handsomely beaten both teams.

However, the only blemish on Verstappen’s and Red Bull’s near-perfect record was a surprise defeat in Singapore due to the team’s RB19 struggling with the characteristics of the Marina Bay circuit.

Charles Leclerc jumps out of his car after qualifying for the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP | Scuderia Ferrari

Victory in Singapore went to Carlos Sainz and Ferrari after a masterful drive from pole to hold off a late Mercedes attack from Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Except for Austin, where Hamilton finished second before being disqualified for a technical infringement, Ferrari had stronger results, cutting the gap between the teams from 24 points at Singapore to four. 

This is due to Mercedes having an awful couple of races in Brazil and Las Vegas, where neither driver finished in the top six, with team principal Toto Wolff even saying the team’s W14 “didn’t deserve a win”.

In contrast, Ferrari finally understand the SF-23 after a sluggish first half of 2023, and with Leclerc ringing the maximum out of it at every race weekend. Recent form suggests Ferrari are the favourites.

Big-name rear gunners will play a part

The final F1 qualifying session of 2023 was far from routine as several drivers struggled for speed and clear track during their laps.

Two big scalps in the session were Hamilton and Sainz, with the Brit suffering his second consecutive Q2 exit, whilst Sainz was eliminated in Q1 after traffic problems ruined his hot laps.

Both drivers have struggled throughout the weekend, with Sainz suffering a big accident in FP2, which ended his session, whilst Hamilton is looking forward to never driving the W14 again after Sunday’s race.

Providing he gets a good launch from the line, Hamilton should quickly clear slower cars such as AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who starts sixth and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg from eighth.

Sainz will need a robust first stint if he wants to move into the points-paying positions by the first round of stops, but even then, he may have to nurse his rubber if he stays out longer.

Hamilton, in contrast, has some of the best tyre management skills on the grid, and with his higher grid position, he should be able to move into the points quicker and stay ahead of Sainz.

Teamwork vital for maximum points

With a mixed-up grid, teamwork will not be as effective in Sunday’s race, but it doesn’t mean it won’t play a part.

Yas Marina’s two long straights in the second sector make the tow vital for overtaking, mainly if both sets of drivers are placed on differing strategies. 

George Russell on track in free practice ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP | LAT Images / Mercedes F1 Team

This emphasises Mercedes’ teamwork, which looked nonexistent in 2023, mainly when Russell and Hamilton have engaged in wheel-to-wheel combat.

At the Japanese GP, Russell and Hamilton nearly hit each other on the exit of the Spoon Curve, narrowly avoiding race-destroying damage but costing each other time.

But two weeks later, the pair’s plan to beat Verstappen at the start backfired spectacularly in Qatar. Entering Turn 1, Hamilton moved across Russell on the exit of the corner, causing the seven-time world champion to spin into retirement.

The lack of harmony inside the Mercedes camp gives Ferrari the edge, as team principal Frederic Vasseur will likely instruct Sainz and Leclerc to work together to beat.

Mercedes vs Ferrari… Who wins?

With Leclerc on the front row for the fourth consecutive GP and Russell having faster drivers like Perez and Lando Norris behind him, Ferrari should secure second.

Leclerc has been in outstanding form as of late and is a threat for victory in Sunday’s race, provided his Ferrari lasts the full distance.

Mercedes will need a clean race and hope Russell can quickly clear third place Oscar Piastri if they want any chance of a silver lining on a wretched season.

Sainz and Hamilton will need to stay out of trouble on the opening lap before quickly clearing slower cars if they are to play an essential role in deciding the fate of second in the constructors.

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