F1’s benchmark squad Mercedes continues to reel, in the aftermath of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
For 4-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, it was a real smack in the face after smashing his own track record in qualifying for a record seventh pole in Melbourne – six tenths of a second up on Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, who joined him on the front row.
The Brit also controlled the race until Lap 26, when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel pitting at the perfect time to gain the advantage and the lead.
One that Hamilton could not overhaul in the remaining laps, leaving him in shock after the chequered flag.
“I am in disbelief because I did everything l was supposed to do,” he said. “I drove as well as l could and l didn't put a foot wrong.”
Mercedes blamed the loss on an offline software tool that created the wrong delta time for under the Virtual Safety Car, with those pitting able to accelerate hard after the first safety car line.
Australia flattered the action at the front of the field though, the Silver Arrows holding a significant speed advantage – no update package for the first race in Melbourne a sign of confidence.
SOUNDBITE (English) TOTO WOLFF,
HEAD OF MOTORSPORT, MERCEDES:
“What we can say is that the car seems solid, the drivers like the behaviour and we seem to be in the ballpark.”
So Hamilton will be back in Bahrain, with the Brit hungry to win again.
SOUNDBITE (English) EMERSON FITTIPALDI,
2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"He delivers when he needs to deliver the result, he's always there. Extremely competitive, very emotional. The love, the passion for the sport, I can see on every mile that Lewis is driving. Every kilometre he's driving a racing car, he’s there. He's a fantastic example of one of the best ever.”
And in the heat of the desert you can bet Mercedes will be ready for anything, even another Virtual Safety Car.