Australian GP: Hamilton disappointed, Ferrari blames balance issues

Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole in Melbourne for the sixth straight year but was overtaken into turn one and was unable to keep up with Valtteri Bottas.

Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole but had to settle for second at the Australian Grand Prix.   -  Getty Images

A disappointed Lewis Hamilton said on Sunday that his Australian Grand Prix was “done and dusted” by the first corner as he was left searching answers after failing to match the pace of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

The five-time world champion started from pole at the season-opening race but was pipped at turn 1 by the Finn and was never in contention as he quickly pulled away to beat the Briton by almost 21 seconds.

To rub salt in his wounds, Bottas also picked up an extra point for the fastest lap.

Hamilton, who was quickest in all three practice sessions and during qualifying, was gracious in defeat, but also struggling to know what went wrong.

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“I had a pretty straightforward race today; I lost position at the start and my race was pretty much done and dusted after the first corner,” he said.

“Afterwards it was really about bringing the car home and bagging the points. I had to pit early to cover the pit stop from Ferrari, so I had a long second stint and drove super carefully to make sure I had tyres left at the end of the race.”

Reports said Mercedes had discovered damage to the floor of Hamilton's car following post-race checks, possibly caused by hitting debris or running across a kerb.

Team chief Toto Wolff had no immediate answers. “For Lewis, it was a harder afternoon — the start was not as good as Valtteri, then we had to pit him earlier than ideal to cover the risk of being undercut by Vettel,” he said.

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“That gave him a long stint on the tyres and none of us knew if they would make it to the end, so it was hard to judge the right pace and he wasn't happy with the car balance.

“My feeling is that it can be tricky to find the sweet spot with these new cars and tyres, and probably we didn't manage that today with Lewis.”

Despite not getting the win he as aiming for, Hamilton said it was “an incredible weekend for the team”.

“I'll bag the 18 points I got today, keep working and come back recharged for the next one. It was a really great weekend for the team and I'm really happy for everyone. We showed a great performance today and we need to continue to build on this — we have a long season ahead of us,” he said.

Balance issues for Ferrari

Ferrari blamed its lack of a competitive edge on balance issues, with Sebastian Vettel complaining the car's performance around corners was not good enough.

The powerhouse Italian team was the standout performer in pre-season testing in Barcelona, but it has been consistently off the Mercedes' pace in Melbourne.

Four-time world champion Vettel could only manage fourth at Albert Park, trailing a gaping 57.1 seconds behind winner Valtteri Bottas. His Ferrari partner Charles Leclerc was fifth.

“In Barcelona we were very happy with the car right from day one. I think the balance was right, the car was responding to what I was asking it to do. I had a lot of confidence,” said Vettel.

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“I think all weekend I didn't get that confidence I had in Barcelona. It (the car) wasn't doing what I was asking.

“I think there were glimpses here and there that were really strong. The performance in some corners was really good, but in the majority it wasn't and that's why we were slower than other people and lost out today.”

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Max Verstappen overtakes Sebastian Vettel during the Australian Grand Prix.   -  AP

 

Team principal Mattia Binotto said it wasn't clear exactly what the problem was, but it was related to the balance setup.

“Since Friday FP1 (free practice one) we have not found the right balance, we struggled at times,” he said.

“Do we understand that yet, probably not. It's something we need to go back and analyse and try to assess what happened.

“One thing we are certain of is that this weekend is not the real potential of our car. The potential is certainly bigger.”

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Mercedes has been dominant in Formula One in recent years, winning the drivers' and constructors' titles five years in a row, and Ferrari — and Vettel — are desperate to catch up.

“Clearly we're missing something right now, but we don't have an answer,” said the German.

“We need to get back, have a good look and I'm sure we'll find something because we know that the car is better than what we have seen today.”