Lewis Hamilton on Monday admitted to concerns about Mercedes’ early-season form after seeing Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel remain unbeaten in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 33-year-old defending four-time world champion said he had little idea how or why Ferrari had been able to out-perform his Mercedes team, Vettel claiming a tense win ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
It was the German’s second win in as many races this season and installed him as a clear favourite to beat Hamilton to become a five-time champion.
“I am thinking and wondering,” said Hamilton. “My thoughts are already on the world championship – I’ve lost two races in a row now and I am 17 points down after just two races.
“Obviously, the grid penalty was difficult to swallow here this weekend, but I think the team did a really good job.
“Hopefully, when we go to China for the next race, we will have a better understanding of the tyres and put up a better fight against Ferrari.
“Shanghai has been kind to me in the past so I am hoping I can bounce back.”
Vettel won Sunday’s race despite admitting he felt Mercedes had him in ‘check-mate’ when they adopted a one stop strategy.
The British star had wound up fourth fastest earlier in Friday’s second free practice session at the Bahrain International Circuit.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) April 6, 2018
Hamilton’s setback in his bid to overhaul Vettel’s early-season lead in the title race – following his victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix – was confirmed by the International Motoring Federation (FIA), the sport’s ruling body.
Bottas also had a new gearbox fitted on Friday evening, but escaped a grid penalty because he had already been penalised in Australia.
Four-time world champion Hamilton, who created a minor controversy when he showed his approval on social media earlier in the day of the retention of grid girls at the Monaco Grand Prix, said before his penalty had been announced that it had been “a normal Friday”.
“It’s very close and we have some work to do. The tyres feel the best they have here in years, very stable with less degradation.”
Mercedes technical director James Allison said after Friday practice that the team were not as competitive in relation to Ferrari as they had been in Melbourne.
“It wasn’t our best day,” he said. “We’ve got more to do overnight and in the practice tomorrow (Saturday) to five us a car that can fight in qualifying and on Sunday.
“The base for us is ok, but we don’t have the edge we had in Melbourne.”
Briefing reporters ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, the 33-year-old Briton said he wanted to see what the sport would be like in 2020 and beyond before he reached a final decision.
The four-time world champion said he was “relaxed” about his position and was not feeling any stress or concerns.
“We’re still in discussions,” Hamilton said.
“I’m very relaxed about it. There’s not really much to say. I’m not really in a rush. We’re just taking our time, talking about it as and when we want to it.
“It’s not a stressful thing for either of us. It’s quite an interesting time for F1.
“Tomorrow (Friday) there’s some sort of announcement or discussions of what is happening in F1 moving forward. It’s always good to wait to hear some of those and see the future of F1.
“For sure, that could or could not have an impact on decisions you make in terms of length or whatever it is you end up doing in F1.”
He said he was not suggesting that he had any specific concerns in mind.
“I’m not hinting at anything like that. I am an integral part of F1 so it’ll be great to know how it will sit for us all.
“Maybe it will affect the driver market. Maybe not — that’s why I’m interested.
“It’s actually come at a pretty good time because I still haven’t put pen to paper so I think it’s good for the team and good for us.
“I think it’s important we do take our time because you should never rush anything. The team is not saying they are talking to other drivers. I’ve never, since I’ve been with the team, gone and spoken to another team.”