Frus­trated Mercedes lose grip as ‘stress­ful’ sea­son looms

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MEL­BOURNE: Mercedes’ three­year dom­i­na­tion of For­mula One looked on shaky ground yes­ter­day as the Sil­ver Ar­rows’ con­fi­dence was rocked by Fer­rari pace and a Se­bas­tian Vet­tel vic­tory in the sea­son-open­ing Aus­tralian Grand Prix.

Book­mak­ers had pole-sit­ter Lewis Hamil­ton as a heavy favourite to win at Al­bert Park but the Bri­ton fin­ished run­nerup, nearly 10 sec­onds be­hind Vet­tel after com­plain­ing of poor grip on the lake­side cir­cuit.

Hamil­ton’s frus­tra­tions were shared in the team garage where Mercedes mo­tor­sport head Toto Wolff pounded his fist on a desk in rage after Vet­tel snuck in front of the Bri­ton when re-join­ing the race from a pit-stop.

The Ger­man then burned away for a dom­i­nant win that has raised hopes of a gen­uine chal­lenge to the Mercedes team that has swept the driv­ers’ and con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onships for the last three years run­ning.

Three-times cham­pion Hamil­ton had de­clared Fer­rari the “quick­est” after win­ter test­ing and his fore­cast of a ti­tle fight with the Ital­ian glam­our team ap­peared right on the mark.

“I don’t lie. And I’m not re­ally good at bluff­ing or play­ing poker,” he said.

“I didn’t know how quick they were go­ing to be in the race. The pace they showed in test­ing was true and to­day their speed in that first stint on ul­tra soft tyres was fan­tas­tic.

“My real strength wasn’t un­til right at the end of the race but it was far too late by then.”

Wolff was also con­vinced Fer­rari had the quicker car and saw test­ing times ahead for a team that has largely raced it­self for three years.

“Some you win, some you lose and to­day the Fer­rari was the quicker car. And it put us un­der pres­sure straight from the be­gin­ning, and that’s how we lost it,” said the Aus­trian.

“It’s go­ing to be very close, there’s no big mar­gins be­tween the teams and also be­tween our two team­mates. It’s go­ing to be a more stress­ful sea­son than in the past but per­son­al­ity-build­ing.”

Valt­teri Bot­tas, who took cham­pion Nico Ros­berg’s va­cant seat fol­low­ing the Ger­man’s shock re­tire­ment last sea­son, was third on his Mercedes de­but but the fo­cused Finn was hardly jump­ing for joy.

“I strug­gled quite a lot with the ul­tra soft tyres, I felt I was slid­ing around, miss­ing some front and rear grip,” he said at the pos­trace me­dia con­fer­ence.

“It wasn’t a dis­as­ter but I will have my points that I will take.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a big chal­lenge, we need to work re­ally hard if we want to beat (Fer­rari). They were quicker to­day, no doubt.” Reuters

REUTERS PIC

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamil­ton leads the race at the start of the Aus­tralian Grand Prix yes­ter­day.

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