MELBOURNE: Mercedes have vowed to bounce back in Bahrain next month after throwing away Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix to Ferrari, with team boss Toto Wolff admitting it was tough to take.
Sebastian Vettel got the jump on world champion Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes blundered their calculations on the Ferrari ace’s pit stop under Virtual Safety Car (VSC) conditions.
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.
“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.”