BAT­TLE LINES DRAWN

Stung Mercedes vow to strike back in China

New Straits Times - - Sport - JAMES AL­LI­SON

MELBOURNE

LEWIS Hamil­ton’s Mercedes are vow­ing to come back hard in China af­ter be­ing am­bushed by resur­gent Fer­rari in the For­mula One sea­son-opener in Aus­tralia.

The Ger­man out­fit, who have ruled the sport for the last three years, got a rude awak­en­ing in the first race of the new sea­son when Se­bas­tian Vet­tel beat Hamil­ton by al­most 10 sec­onds in Melbourne on Sun­day.

Vet­tel’s tri­umph has over­turned early-sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions and raised the prospect of a Fer­rar­iMercedes bat­tle for the world ti­tle over the re­main­ing 19 races.

All eyes will now be on the next grand prix in Shang­hai on

April 9 to see if Fer­rari can re­peat their im­proved per­for­mance through Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen.

“If it wasn’t al­ready clear af­ter qual­i­fy­ing, then it’s cer­tainly clear now that this is go­ing to be a sea­son of very small mar­gins,” Mercedes tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor James Al­li­son said.

“Credit to Fer­rari, they had a very quick car and we just weren’t quite good enough to stick with them. We won’t panic, though.

“It’s race one of a long sea­son and we scored some very good points with both cars in Melbourne. We’ll be de­ter­mined to come back stronger in China and make sure those small mar­gins go our way next time.”

While Vet­tel’s first win for Fer­rari since Sin­ga­pore in 2015, and his 43rd vic­tory over­all, has su­per­charged the sea­son, he said there was still a lot of work to do.

“This is one of many steps and we have to en­joy what we do. It’s great to see peo­ple smil­ing,” said Vet­tel. “Now we have to re­set to go to China and try to do a good job.”

Fer­rari pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mar­chionne said the team re­turn­ing to the top of the podium was long over­due, with the vic­tory mean­ing a non-Mercedes driver leads the cham­pi­onship for the first time since 2013.

“It was about time,” Mar­chionne said. “We’ve been wait­ing for this vic­tory for al­most a year-and-a-half. Hear­ing the Ital­ian na­tional an­them again was very mov­ing.

“Se­bas­tian de­liv­ered a great race and I am sure Kimi will be soon up there bat­tling along­side his team­mate.”

But like Vet­tel, Mar­chionne is not get­ting car­ried away at the start of a globe-trot­ting sea­son which will wrap up in Abu Dhabi in Novem­ber.

“It is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to re­mem­ber that this is not the des­ti­na­tion but the first step on a long road that must see us all fo­cused on im­prov­ing each and ev­ery day,” he said.

Shang­hai will also be an op­por­tu­nity for Aus­tralian Daniel Ric­cia­rdo to bounce back af­ter his trau­matic out­ing in Melbourne.

The ami­able Red Bull driver crashed in qual­i­fy­ing, was hit with a grid penalty and started Sun­day’s race from pit lane, be­fore his car stopped on lap 29 of his 58-lap home GP.

The week­end set­back con­tin­ues Ric­cia­rdo’s run of ter­ri­ble luck at his home grand prix, where he was dis­qual­i­fied from sec­ond place in 2014 for breach­ing fuel rules. AFP

Credit to Fer­rari, they had a very quick car and we just weren’t quite good enough to stick with them. We won’t panic, though.

AP PIC

Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel races past his cel­e­brat­ing team on the way to win­ning the Aus­tralian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sun­day.

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