Ferrari have a “realistic” chance of mounting a serious title challenge to Mercedes in 2016, according to technical director James Allison.
Sebastian Vettel finished third in this year’s championship, winning three races to champion Lewis Hamilton’s 10.
Allison said: “If we do everything we intend, we have a realistic chance next year will be a classic year for F1 – and for Ferrari I hope even stronger.
“But saying it is easy and doing it is a lot, lot harder.”
Allison, 47, is the man charged with turning around Ferrari’s fortunes after a dip in form in recent years and a title drought dating back to 2007.
He has led a recovery this year after Ferrari had in 2014 its worst season in two decades, failing to win and taking only two podiums.
This year, Vettel, who replaced Fernando Alonso after the former Ferrari team leader moved to McLaren believing they would give him a better chance of winning a third world title, has scored 13 podiums, including his victories in Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore.
Glowing praise for Vettel
Allison, who was speaking in an exclusive interview for the Amira News F1 Review show, was glowing in his praise for Vettel, describing his year as “flawless”.
“It’s easiest to talk about it by looking at Bahrain, the weakest race of the year,where he made one or two errors,” Allison said.
“We don’t have as good a car as the Mercedes, that’s obvious, and yet we’ve won three races. Sebastian has won all three.
“And the reason that he has won those three and put it on the podium as much as he has is that we ask him to sort of work miracles to put his car in a competitive position, because the car is not yet good enough to be the winning car.
“And he delivers those miracles sort of lap after lap, race after race, weekend after weekend.
“Then, just occasionally, once or twice in a whole year in thousands of laps, you see evidence that there isn’t a machine there, there’s a human. And that shows the magnificence of the achievement in all the other races.”
Similarities to Schumacher
Allison said Vettel was “an easy guy to work with” and related his “understanding of the value of being in a team” with that of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, with whom Allison worked during Ferrari’s dominant era of 2000 to 2004.
“With drivers, the number one thing you want is that they are fast and don’t make mistakes,” Allison said. “And quite often the type of personality that is necessary to be fast and not to make mistakes is not necessarily the most sympathetic character to get along with.
“Sebastian is one of the unusual characters who is very straightforward and easy. Ego-less is wrong, but his ego is kept in check to be part of the group and team. It makes it a) a pleasure and b) it greatly increases the power of the group when the person who has to deliver on Sunday wants to be part of the team.
“I have worked with two guys who really, really understand the value of being in a team and one was Michael and the other is Sebastian.
“That’s not to denigrate the others but it’s a particular strength in Sebastian and it was a particular strength in Michael.”
Mixed year for Raikkonen
Allison described the season of Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen as “a bit of a curate’s egg”.
Allison described Raikkonen’s drive to second place in Bahrain early in the season as “fantastic”, adding: “There have been a number of other occasions where he has made Sebastian sweat and made him have to stretch himself to keep his team-mate at bay.
“And other races like Silverstone where Sebastian was utterly candid that he couldn’t live with Kimi at various sections of the track in the race, he was not as quick.
“But at other times in the year a few errors have crept in and he has had some real misfortune, where our reliability has dropped the ball for him.
“But what we have seen through the season, and latterly particularly, is Kimi really making Sebastian work for his money.
“I am looking forward to next season because I know the relationship will stay strong between them and to see the pair of them spurring each other on. Kimi is a very experienced and strong driver and I am looking forward to seeing what he can do next year.”