Ferrari exposed extreme pace in Melbourne: Mercedes should be worried

Rodney Gordon Columnist

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    This weekend’s Australian Grand Prix was a rude awakening for reigning constructors’ champions Mercedes.

    Despite a questionable pit strategy that left race leader Lewis Hamilton stranded behind the glacially slow Red Bull of Max Verstappen, Vettel’s had no trouble holding pace with Hamilton in the early stages.

    Hamilton couldn’t even get close to the target lap times once in clear air.

    “We didn’t firstly have the pace to be able to pull a gap [on Vettel],” said Hamilton after the race.

    “There’s an area that we have to work on, obviously our tyre usage is something [that] we understand is where we’re losing. So we’re just trying to make changes to improve that in the future, which we will do.”

    Immediately after the race Hamilton seemed resilient in the face of defeat, but as the reality of their tyre performance issues became clear his mood shifted to disappointment and frustration.

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    “The team asked me to give information where the tyres are throughout the run – and just the race that we had planned to race and I was asked to race wasn’t necessarily the optimum.

    “I could’ve won the race today and there’s certain things that we could’ve perhaps done better but I gave it everything I could. Can’t win them all.”

    Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff conceded that Ferrari were the quicker team on the day, and admitted their reading on the tyre wear didn’t match the tyre wear their competitors were experiencing.

    “There was the risk of the undercut and we also thought that the tyres wouldn’t last anymore. And all that led us to the decision to pit to avoid the undercut.

    “After the race is always easier, when you rewind and say what we could’ve done better,” said Wolff.

    “But we just weren’t quick enough today and that’s why Sebastian is the deserved winner.”

    Conditions changes markedly between the cool and overcast Friday practice session and the warm, sunny race afternoon, which could have made enough of a difference for Mercedes to misjudge the performance window of the tyres.

    Lewis Hamilton press conference

    Hamilton’s new teammate Valtteri Bottas confessed that he too had issues getting the option tyres to last during the opening phase of the race. In a positive note for the team, the car seemed to settle down on the harder compounds.

    “From my side, the main thing was first stint,” Bottas explained. “I struggled quite a lot with ultrasoft, felt I was sliding around, missing front grip and rear grip, especially after ten laps — that wasn’t easy.

    “But once we put the soft tyre on, it was actually quite a good feeling, really nice to drive. But it was a bit too late and we’re still missing pace.”

    With only two weeks until the Chinese Grand Prix there’s little chance the team can turn around their management deficit, but will be hoping for their single lap pace in qualifying to get them onto the front row – a position that will allow them to defend the lead from the charging Ferrari drivers.

    Another concern is the fact that Bottas is yet to prove that he is capable of giving Hamilton the rear-gunner that he needs to fend off an attack.

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    The Crowd Says (2)

    • March 28th 2017 @ 6:30pm
      SmithHatesMaxwell said | March 28th 2017 @ 6:30pm | ! Report

      Everyone complained about the soft tyres because it was artificial and you couldn’t drive on the limit.

      They give everyone durable tyres that can be driven on the limit and everyone is complaining about the lack of pit stops.

      It’s ridiculous. I think most people complaining haven’t really watched F1 for more than 5-10 years.

      Nothing could be more boring than what we’ve had for the last three years where Mercedes were virtually guaranteed victory barring mechanical failure and driver mistakes. Whoever got to the first corner ahead was given first choice on pit strategy (ie. the undercut) and assured of victory.

      No-one could have predicted this performance from Vettel after qualifying on Saturday.

      Don’t forget too that Albert Park is a difficult circuit for passing. Also, don’t pay much attention to what Hamilton says because he’s prone to exaggeration. I saw cars manage to make passes stick.

      I still think Mercedes have a big edge (half a second) on the field. Raikkonen was beaten quite easily by both Mercedes. After Malaysia 2015 we thought we’d have a competitive season, but it was a one off race where Mercedes chewed up their tyres too quickly.

      Ferrari might be slower, but a kinder on their tyres than the Mercedes. Vettel might be able to win many races simply biding his time behind Hamilton and waiting for the “overcut” to pump in some qualifying laps.

      Before the hybrid era, Hamilton did have a reputation for being harder on his tyres and not being able to manage them as well as others. This was especially the case in 2011 when he was beaten by Button.

    • March 30th 2017 @ 8:49pm
      Mad Dog said | March 30th 2017 @ 8:49pm | ! Report

      I wouldnt worry too much just yet. Still 19 races to go and with the new rules regarding adding improvements its no big deal right now. If they still havent won anything after Russia then thats a bit of a concern. I think this season will start heating up about half way with the new rules regarding reliability. That could be what wins or loses the championship

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