By Abhishek Takle
HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Ferrari head into Formula One’s annual break facing a tall order to turn things around in time for the second half of a season that promised much but has so far delivered little.
Formula One’s most successful team went into the season with ambitions of challenging dominant Mercedes for race wins and the championship, after rebounding from their first winless campaign in more than two decades with three wins last year.
The Italian squad, revitalized by new management and the arrival of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, was the only team to break Mercedes’ stranglehold on the top of the podium in 2015.
But they head into the summer break, just past the halfway stage of a record 21-race season, still without a win and having dropped to third in the standings behind rivals Red Bull following Sunday’s German Grand Prix.
"I have to say that they improved quite well," team principal Maurizio Arrivabene told reporters following the race in Hockenheim.
"It doesn’t mean we are going to surrender. During this period we have to think and to react."
Ferrari started the year strongly, challenging for the win in the season-opener in Australia.
But a serious title-tilt never materialized and as the season has worn on even the podiums, of which Ferrari scored eight in the first nine races, have dried up.
The sudden departure of the team’s highly regarded technical director James Allison in the build up to Sunday’s race has only caused more upheaval and could deal their campaign a further blow.
Red Bull, meanwhile, have taken giant strides forward.
The Milton Keynes-based outfit overturned what was a 37-point deficit into a 14-point advantage in the space of just four races with a double-podium on Sunday, when the best Ferrari could manage was a fifth and sixth.
“We were just not fast enough,” said Kimi Raikkonen, who won Ferrari’s last world championship in 2007.
“Everybody can see where we finished and it’s obviously a bit painful for all of us. But this is how it is right now and we just have to work hard and improve.”
Ferrari’s hopes are now pinned on a return to form in the second half.
Arrivabene identified the team’s struggle to add crucial aerodynamic downforce to their car since May’s Spanish Grand Prix as the reason for their slide.
But even though the team knows what to fix, according to the Italian, they face the challenge of balancing development of this year’s car with shifting focus onto their challenger for 2017 when the sport is set for sweeping rule changes.
“I think the last couple of races have been harsh and tough for us but very, very useful,” Vettel said. “It’s not that easy to change overnight but there is a plan and I think the second half should be stronger in that regard.”
(Editing by Alison Williams)