Vettel went on to keep Hamilton at bay for his second straight win in Melbourne and third overall.
It’s a defeat that sticks in the craw of Mercedes and team principal Wolff, who is determined the champion team will not repeat the same error again.
“This was one that got away and it’s a bitter pill for us all to swallow,” Wolff said.
“Following Lewis’s pit stop, we believed that we had the scenarios of both the safety car and the virtual safety car covered, so that Sebastian could not pit and come out ahead of Lewis on track.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2018
“We should have been several seconds safe, then suddenly saw on the TV screens that we were not.
“Of course, under the VSC sometimes you benefit and sometimes you lose out – but it was clearly a problem on our side and we need to analyse that to understand what happened and correct it.”
Wolff said what was particularly frustrating was that Mercedes had the pace to win the Melbourne race.
“Lewis was in control through the opening stint, then after the pit stop as well, and looked on course for a strong victory but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
“Congratulations to Ferrari on their win. For us, it’s a tough one to take, but there are lots of lessons to be learned so we can come back stronger next time.”
Mercedes have already set their sights on the second race of the season in Bahrain on April 8.
‘Not where we want to be’
Hamilton said he was bewildered to find himself behind as Vettel emerged from the pits to hold on to the lead around the notoriously-restrictive Albert Park street circuit.
“I did everything I could, but it’s not what anyone expected to happen,” said the Briton.
“I’m still in a little bit of disbelief as I don’t really understand what happened yet.
“At least in my heart I know that I gave everything this weekend. I’m sure the team is feeling pain right now but we will regroup and we’ll work on it.”
For his part Vettel believes Ferrari’s 2018 car is not currently “a true match” for Mercedes, despite having won the first race.
Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen had been unable to challenge Hamilton in Melbourne qualifying, both finishing almost seven-tenths of a second off the defending champion.
The German conceded he was “a bit lucky” to win, and admitted Ferrari was not yet where it wanted to be.
“If you look at the gaps the whole weekend, we are not yet a true match (for Mercedes),” he said.
“Therefore at this point we know that we are not yet where we want to be, because we want to be fastest.”
Provided by AFP Sport
Defending champion Hamilton could finish the opening three days with only 25 laps under his belt – the least of any driver this week – after Bottas was given an entire day behind the wheel on Tuesday.
The third instalment of pre-season practice at the Circuit de Catalunya on Wednesday was effectively a washout following a deluge of snow here on the outskirts of Barcelona.
In contrast to Hamilton’s limited running, Bottas has already racked up 152 laps of testing, the equivalent of two and a half race distances.
“The miles in these conditions are less valuable than proper miles in proper conditions, but I will take it,” Bottas said.
“I love to drive as much as possible and I definitely have a better understanding of the car [than Lewis] because of the mileage.
“Lewis however, will soon get a good idea of the new car and he is quick to adapt.”
Hamilton, 33, was due to test on Wednesday but the track was closed for much of the morning with the medical helicopter unable to fly in the torrid conditions.
Valtteri Bottas hopes to show ‘more muscle’ in 2018 💪
— Formula 1 (@F1) February 28, 2018
The circuit opened for business shortly before midday, but it is unlikely the teams will complete any significant running with the high risk of damage to their cars.
Fernando Alonso was the first driver to emerge from his garage as he completed one lap in his McLaren before returning to the pits. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo headed out for only one exploratory lap, too.
Bottas finished 58 points adrift of Hamilton last season and recorded six fewer victories than his team-mate after spending much of his first Mercedes campaign in the Briton’s shadow.
But the 28-year-old Finn is optimistic he can get on top of the four-time world champion when the season starts in Melbourne on March 25.
“Every driver has a weakness, but rather than focus too much on Lewis I am going to spend my energy and focus on myself and my performance on track,” Bottas added.
“If I perform on the level I am aiming for at every single race, I hope that will do the job, but I am not going to start wasting my energy on mind games.
“Last year I did not perform on the level I should have and I learned a lot from that. It was tough because I wanted to perform after the August break but I had a few difficult races.
“I have learned massively all through my career as there have been tough times, but that is what makes you stronger and that’s how you learn.”
The opening winter test concludes on Thursday with four further days of practice here next week before the new season gets under way in Australia.
The Finn, who joined the team as an emergency replacement for 2016 world champion German Nico Rosberg in January this year, has committed to Mercedes for another year.
But he told reporters ahead of this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix that he has no intention of being seen as a number two driver to Hamilton, the four-time world champion who has already taken the 2017 title.
“Even though he is a really, really good driver and very consistent, I also need to believe in myself,” said Bottas. “I can’t put myself in a place of number two, otherwise I would rather stay at home.”
Bottas’ form has been under scrutiny as Mercedes battled to complete a fourth consecutive constructors’ championship and he fought to overhaul German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and take the runners-up spot in the driver standings.
In his maiden year with the team, Bottas has recorded his first Formula One wins and pole positions, but struggled for consistency.
Hamilton has been faster than Bottas in qualifying in 13 of the 18 races and has won nine times while Bottas has own twice.
Bottas added: “This year I have learned massively and I want to see it as kind of a learning year for me with the team, but starting next year with the people I know it’s going to be quite different and I just need to go for it and learn from all the hard times.”