Mercedes have been forced to postpone an engine upgrade that was scheduled for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, prompting Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton to say he and the team could be in for a “difficult weekend”.
The impact for the latter will be mitigated by a grid penalty for Daniel Ricciardo, with the Monaco Grand Prix winner having had new parts added to his engine due to problems which arose during that victorious drive. He will face at least a 10-place penalty.
However, Hamilton remains concerned of the potential damage his title hopes could suffer this weekend after Mercedes said a “quality issue” has delayed their upgrade.
“It is a power circuit,” Hamilton said of Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. “There is power loss over the life of an engine. All I am hoping for is reliability.
“If I am on the seventh race, with a power difficult circuit, I just want to see it through. Naturally I am still here to win.
“It will be interesting to see whether we can match Ferrari or not, but we are going to be giving it everything we’ve got.”
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Hamilton was on course to open his campaign with the maximum quota of points at Melbourne’s Albert Park only to see rival Sebastian Vettel snatch victory following a miscalculation by Mercedes.
The mistake afforded Vettel the chance to leapfrog Hamilton during a virtual safety car period at the Australian Grand Prix before he went on to seal an unlikely victory.
The inquest will start at Mercedes’ Oxfordshire base in Brackley on Monday as the sport’s reigning constructors’ champions work to ensure they do not leave Hamilton exposed again.
“It was clearly a problem on our side and we need to analyse that to understand what happened and correct it,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said.
“Lewis was in control through the opening stint of the race and then after his pit stop and looked on course for a strong victory.
“It is a tough one to take but there are lots of lessons to be learned so we can come back stronger next time.”
Hamilton will be kept updated with the investigation after the error handed Vettel an early advantage in this year’s championship race.
The Englishman, 33, was magnanimous in defeat, and while he expects to go head-to-head with Vettel in Bahrain a week on Sunday, he also believes he has the tools to bounce back.
“We have got a great car and we are still the world champions so with a couple of adjustments I believe we can win the next race,” Hamilton added.
“You never know how the season is going to pan out as you do not get a good understanding until after four races, but Ferrari are quick.
“They are going to be rapid at the next race – they are always good when it comes to hot circuits – so it is not going to be easy and it is going to be close.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished only eighth on Sunday after he started a lowly 15th on the grid.
Bottas’s crash in qualifying left Hamilton exposed to both Vettel and his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen during the curtain raiser, and the British driver says the title could be determined by hunting in packs.
Hamilton added: “It is not easy to fight against a team which has two cars in the mix rather than one.
“Last year it was important to have both of our cars up there and this year it is going to be even more important than ever before.
“We are working hard together and Valtteri will make sure he is up there and fighting with us.”
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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.
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“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