MANAMA: Defending champion Lewis Hamilton has warned his Mercedes team “to stay on their toes” at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix where Ferrari will be seeking to bounce back after being beaten at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton, who came home second in a damaged car behind in-form team-mate Valtteri Bottas, said he was delighted, but surprised by Mercedes’ comprehensive maximum points showing in Melbourne.
The five-time champion said that he, like most observers, had felt that Ferrari were the fastest team in pre-season testing and favourites to set the pace at the Albert Park track where a fired-up Bottas dominated.
“I think everyone was surprised by our showing in Australia,” he said.
“No-one was expecting to see a gap like that with Ferrari. They were ahead – that is what we saw in testing – but it wasn’t the case that weekend.
“We just did our normal job, but I am sure they will come back strong. So, we have to be ready and we have to stay on our toes.”
Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who finished fourth behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Australia, will be seeking his third straight victory in Bahrain in Sunday’s race.
Like his new team chief Mattia Binotto, the German hopes that Ferrari’s disappointing Australian race was merely a blip.
“In Bahrain, we have to ensure that we have understood and rectified the areas where we were weak in Australia, which therefore meant we were unable to fully exploit our car’s potential,” said Binotto.
“We expect to see the effect of the corrections we have made, but we are well aware that our competitors will once again be very strong. With that in mind, we are keen to get back on track and face them.”
The two Ferraris, with Vettel fourth and new boy Charles Leclerc fifth, were a minute adrift of Mercedes in Melbourne, a gap that team boss Toto Wolff said he did not expect to see repeated.
“We’ve seen the potential of Ferrari’s package in Barcelona and we expect them to come back strong in Bahrain,” he said, adding that he believed Red Bull would also “be in the mix.”
“Claiming a maximum 44 points from the first race was a fantastic result,” Wolff added.
“But the fight has only just begun. Ferrari will try everything they can to hit back and Melbourne showed that Red Bull should have something to say in the fight, too.”
The 5.4km Sakhir circuit is expected to be kinder to Ferrari than the semi-street track in Melbourne.
The Italian outfit will also be boosted by their record in Bahrain where they are the most successful team with six wins, including last year’s success for Vettel which followed a front row lockout of the grid.
After his stunning success in Australia, where he said he drove the “race of my life”, Bottas will be intent on endorsing his new-found speed and aggression in Sunday’s floodlit race.
A three-team battle looks likely with Hamilton also keen to regain supremacy and ensure that he does not allow Bottas to gain early season control in the title race.