Despite his victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the four-time champion arrived in Bahrain on Thursday to play down hopes that it will be a straightforward task to win again on Sunday.
“If you look at the pace in testing and at the first race, it’s pretty clear that Mercedes is fastest, probably with a three- or fourth-tenths’ gap,” he said.
“That’s what we saw in the race. Obviously, Lewis was controlling his pace in the beginning and then he pushed when he had to. He had time in hand. I think that’s the fair answer.”
Hamilton secured his 73rd career pole position in Melbourne with a luxurious advantage of six-tenths of a second ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Vettel, however, said he did not believe that was a representative lap time advantage. He said he felt the gap was bigger than it should have been.
“Overall, I think in qualifying the gap there looked a bit bigger than it probably should have been.
“I think if you look at the session again, it’s pretty clear that in Q2 in particular Mercedes and Lewis didn’t get the lap together and then in Q3 he did.
“And I think Max (Verstappen, of Red Bull) had a small mistake in Q3 and I had a small mistake so we should have been a bit closer.”
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) April 5, 2018
“Ultimately,” he added. “We need to have the pace to win and, as I said before, we have to look at ourselves and improve.
“I’m confident that we can. I think our car has potential, but we need to make progress and catch up quickly to fight for wins.”
He added: “It’s also a no-brainer that we’re not quick enough yet and Mercedes is quicker.
“But we go racing. It’s not that we live in simulation land and rely solely on numbers.
“We go racing, as you saw a couple of weeks ago, in Australia, as you saw many times over the past years.
“And that’s the excitement of what we do — that you never really know what happens even if you have a guess.”
Overtaking was a missing vital ingredient at Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix and Formula One supremo Ross Brawn says it will take years to rectify the problem.
“Think of how much wheel-to-wheel dicing we missed out on,” the former Benetton and Ferrari technical director and Honda, Brawn GP and Mercedes team boss said.
“The point is that, until we take a structured approach to the problem, we won’t really make any progress.
“One of our aims, which we are looking at with the (governing) FIA and the teams is that, for 2021, we want to have cars that allow drivers to really fight one another on track,” he added.
Brawn, whose current role is as F1’s managing director for motorsports, says the FIA and teams are conducting extensive research to help improve car designs to make for better overtaking.
“We need to evolve a car design that achieves close to the level of performance we now see, but permits wheel-to-wheel action,” Brawn explained.
Melbourne’s Albert Park street circuit is notoriously difficult for overtaking, and fans were treated to a couple of stunning passes by home favourite Daniel Ricciardo in the lead Red Bull. However, in general, car performance reduces when too much time is spent right on the tails of another car, a problem that many drivers have highlighted.
“My best friend was on the edge of a cliff and I couldn’t get to him to save his life today, that’s how hard it was to overtake,” Lewis Hamilton said after finishing second, with his Mercedes dropping off significantly after reducing the gap to Sebastian Vettel‘s Ferrari to just about a second at one point.
Hamilton started on pole but Vettel getting past him was down to a strategy call rather than a direct battle on track, as the German jumped his rival during a pit stop while the Virtual Safety Car was in place.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said he had no doubt fans watching on TV would have found Sunday’s race boring.
“Completely worthless. I would have turned off the TV,” the Dutchman was quoted as saying.
“(It was) very boring. You do your best to try something, and I was in DRS range all the time, but there is nothing you can do.”
Here are five things we learned from Formula One‘s season opener:
Hamilton still the man to beat
Hamilton was blisteringly quick as he grabbed pole position by the massive margin of more than half a second and would have cruised to victory had the virtual safety car not allowed Vettel to snatch the lead.
Hamilton was still able to close on Vettel at will and only the impossibility of overtaking at Albert Park – statistically the second- most-difficult passing circuit on the calendar – caused the reigning champion to back off in the closing laps and save his engine for another day.
Then there were three
Red Bull showed signs that alongside Ferrari – who had two men on the podium – they can make it a three-way fight for the constructors title with Mercedes this year.
Daniel Ricciardo was all over the back of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and only just missed out on the podium after fighting back from eighth position on the grid after a penalty.
Max Verstappen, who worked his way back to sixth after spinning early in the race, is not likely to endure such an untidy grand prix again.
Alonso happy to ditch Honda
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso spent most of last season complaining about his McLaren’s Honda engine on team radio.
But the switch to a Renault power unit seems to have put a spring in his step of the Spaniard as he finished a fighting fifth, with team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne also scoring points in ninth.
“With some updates to come in the next few races we can start to look ahead a little bit and Red Bull will be the next target,” Alonso smiled after the race. “Things are going to get better and better.”
Haas retirements mask their speed
The American team carried their surprising speed from pre-season testing into the race where Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean ran just behind Hamilton and the Ferraris, but held off the rest of the pack with ease – at least until they had to stop for new tyres.
Two disastrous pit stops meant two retirements due to loosely-attached wheels, with both cars grinding to a halt out on the circuit after looking on course for top-five finishes. No prizes for guessing what the Haas pit crews will be practising ahead of Bahrain in two weeks’ time.
Sirotkin bags some bad luck
Sergey Sirotkin’s Formula One debut lasted just five laps when his Williams conked out at turn 13 with a sudden loss of braking. So was it a loss of hydraulics that caused his demise? Far from it, the Russian said, it was all down to a spectator’s sandwich.
Sirotkin was convinced a sandwich wrapping being sucked into the brake duct was to blame. “You would not believe what happened: it was a plastic sandwich bag, which went into the rear-right brake duct,” he complained.
“Yes, that’s how exciting it is. It was a big bag, a big sandwich bag.”