Mercedes have a fight on with Ferrari this year says Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes will duel it out with Ferrari for the title this season after Sebastian Vettal was victorious at the season opener in Melbourne, Australia.
The British driver said he and the German team have “a race on our hands” after a revitalised Ferrari impressed at the weekend.
The race saw the introduction of the new F1 rules, and began in a fascinating fashion as Ferrari and Vettal nailed their first GP triumph for some time, with a combination of superior pace and a cunning pit strategy that allowed Vettal to sneak in front of the early race frontrunner Hamilton.
Hamilton, last year’s runner up, had to settle for second place, a full ten seconds behind the Ferrari. Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate completed the podium in third. For Mercedes, it was only the sixth time they had not won a GP in the last 60 races.
Before the race, Hamilton had gone on record to say he felt that Ferrari would be this year’s frontrunners.
“I don’t lie and I’m not very good at bluffing,” he told Sky Sports F1.
“I didn’t know how quick they would be in the race but their pace from testing was true and their first stint on the ultrasofts was fantastic. My real strength wasn’t until right at the end by which time it was far too late.”
Hamilton added: “We’ve got a race on our hands.”
“I only stopped a lap earlier than my target but I couldn’t go any further,” Hamilton admitted.
Once released to potentially attack Vettel when Verstappen pitted, Hamilton again initially struggled with his tyres and new team-mate Valtteri Bottas began closing on him.
Bottas eventually finished just under two seconds adrift to claim the bottom step of the podium on his Mercedes debut, although conceded he “expected a little bit better” in terms of performance.
“It’s a decent start and a good haul of points for the team,” he said.
“The main question mark is the first stint as I didn’t have the pace I should have had. The car was sliding around a lot with the ultrasofts but at the end it was feeling consistent and I could really push the car.
“I was trying to get close but once you get within a couple of seconds you lose grip, more than in previous years.”
The impressive out-of-the-box pace of the Ferrari does present a challenge for Mercedes, according to Bottas, but the Finn is confident his new team can respond from China onwards.
“It’s going to be a big challenge and we have to work really hard if we want to beat Ferrari,” he added. “They were quicker today so we need to improve plenty of things.
“I’m glad there are 19 races to go and we are definitely not standing still. That’s why I’m happy. Third is not the best result but there is much more to come.”
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