D he 12th season of his career started with a glitch. Lewis Hamilton was on the way to opening victory in Australia up to lap 26. Although at this point he was in second place, a good 12 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel. But the Ferrari driver still had to stop. In Albert Park this usually takes 22.5 seconds. Ten seconds less, however, in a VSC phase.
And that's exactly what happened after Romain Grosjean parked his HaasF1 in turn two with a wobbly left front wheel. Vettel dashed into the pits, had fresh soft tires fitted and got back on the track a few meters before Hamilton.
It was the worst case scenario for the Mercedes tacticians. The strategy program had misled them. It provided incorrect data. At Mercedes it was assumed that it would be enough to be with the leader within 15 seconds. “We even had a safety margin of three to four seconds,” says team principal Toto Wolff. Either the strategists supplied the software with incorrect data sets. Or a bug destroyed the racing strategy.
Hamilton has to defend himself against two Ferraris
Until then everything went according to plan. Hamilton consolidated the top position at the start and led in the first stint by over three seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and over seven seconds ahead of Vettel. “You have a fast car. It wasn't easy to shake off, ”says Hamilton. However, Hamilton did not go crazy. He managed the tires and fuel consumption, which can be critical in Melbourne without safety car phases. “Lewis drove exactly to our targets. We needed a head start to protect ourselves from an undercut. ”
It was the only tactical tool Ferrari had. The Italians sacrificed Raikkonen to lure Mercedes out of the reserve. With a tire change on lap 18. It must be said that Ferrari had no choice but to call the Finn into the pits. Only Raikkonen was at a distance from Hamilton. The Mercedes strategists should not have responded immediately to Vettel. The world champion says: “Kimi drove well. But I knew Ferrari would play him to beat me. That's why I've been looking at the distance to Sebastian the whole time. I knew that he was my real opponent. ”
Ferrari cleverly played out the quantitative majority. Without the calculation erroron the Mercedes side it would not have been enough. “Lewis could have done a lot faster with fresh soft tires. But we were lying in the window according to our calculations, didn't have to drive faster and wanted to protect the tires. They had to hold up to the end, 'says Wolff.
Hamilton:' I had enough up my sleeve. 'The defending champion would like to simplify Formula 1 and not have his colleague computer calculate practically all of his decisions. 'I'd rather follow my instincts.'
Hamilton without a chance in a direct duel
Started on lap 30 Hamilton put his rival under constant pressure. Although it was in the range of 0.8 seconds to one second, it could never launch an attack. “You simply lose too much downforce when you follow. The cars were like two magnets that couldn't be brought together. I was faster in the corners. But Ferrari is really fast on the straights. ”
The turbulent air made the front wing of the Mercedes less effective. The result is a loss of contact pressure. The car begins to slip and the tires wear out more. “At some point they cooked,” says Wolff. A small mistake threw Hamilton back by over 2.5 seconds. In a few laps he was back on the Ferrari. That showed the speed of Mercedes.
However, Hamilton let go a little later. “I am reluctant not to attack fully until the end. I always give 110 percent for those seven extra points. But I also have to think about the World Cup. I have to pass six or seven races with this engine. I want to get by with the three engines for the season. ”
Mercedes talks Ferrari hard
The defeat was reminiscent of the lost victory at the Monaco GP in 2015. At that time, a VSC /Safety also screwed up -Car phase for the now four-time world champion. “It feels like there are dark clouds hanging over me. It's never easy to put up with losing a Grand Prix. But there are so many positive things to take with you this weekend. Our car was super fast. In qualification and inRun. I drove as well as ever. ”
Hamilton does not want to overestimate the clear lead in qualifying over Red Bull and Ferrari. “Sebastian's round wasn't a good one. Mine does. ”Toto Wolff also sees strong competition. “Three teams can win races and the world championship. It's going to be a season with different winners. ”
It sounds as if Mercedes speaks strongly to its opponents. One could suspect politically motivated motives behind the statements. In any case, the desperation of Formula 1 in view of the Mercedes speed was great after qualifying. The calls for an alignment of the engines and new regulations from 2021 are getting louder. Perhaps that's why the defeat isn't so inconvenient for Mercedes.