MELBOURNE: Mercedes have lorded over Formula One for the last three years as the dominant team but Sebastian Vettel´s accomplished victory for Ferrari in Australia Sunday has the reigning champions bracing for a season-long battle.
Vettel held all the aces in the Melbourne season opener mastering Lewis Hamilton by almost 10 seconds and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
While only the first of a 20-race season, Vettel´s showing for Ferrari has signalled a possible changing of the guard in the new era of faster and more physical cars.
“We´ve got a real race on our hands and it´s a challenge we will relish. It´s going to be great for the fans,” declared Hamilton after he failed to make any impression on Vettel´s tearaway Ferrari in the closing stages of the 58-lap dash around the Albert Park street circuit.
Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff, who only this week hailed Hamilton as in a “league of his own”, admitted there was now a “more stressful season” ahead for his team on the evidence of the opening race.
“We saw that Ferrari were very strong in testing and in qualifying they were a real force,” Wolff said.
“It´s going to be a more stressful season than in the past but it´s personality building.”
Hamilton, although claiming his fourth successive pole position for the Australian race, had warned during the lead-up of the dangers Ferrari posed.
“I don´t lie and I´m not very good at bluffing,” Hamilton said.
“I didn´t know how quick they would be in the race but their pace from testing was true and their first stint on the ultrasoft tyres was fantastic.
“My real strength wasn´t until right at the end by which time it was far too late.
“I only stopped a lap earlier than my target but I couldn´t go any further. We´ve got a race on our hands.
“It´s always been tough to follow and for me it was as tough as I anticipated.
“For me personally, I want more wheel-to-wheel racing and it´s currently through pit stops that we´re fighting. We need to try and make sure we stay out front.”
Finland´s Bottas, who grabbed a podium place in his first race for Mercedes, said: “It is going to be a big challenge from Ferrari.”
After the Australian opener a rare sight in the constructors standings with Ferrari on top with 35 points leading Mercedes by four points.-AFP