Toto Wolff has conceded that Mercedes was simply not fast enough to prevent Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel from taking the chequered flag in Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Victory for Mercedes had appeared to be nothing more than a formality earlier in the weekend, with Lewis Hamilton topping almost every practice session on his way to a 62nd career pole position, and Ferrari’s headline testing pace seemingly nowhere to be seen.
But when it came to it in the race, Hamilton was unable to sprint away from Vettel off the line or catch up again once the German had assumed the lead—and although tyres and strategy played a part in Mercedes’ loss, Wolff admitted that even in perfect circumstances his team would still have struggled to keep Vettel at bay for long:
“Some races you win, some races you lose, and when the days come where another team has done a better job, you need to accept that with humility and recognise their performance,” he said.
“Today Sebastian and Ferrari were well-deserved winners. From the early stages of the race, it was clear Sebastian was very quick because Lewis wasn’t able to pull away.”
Wolff also defended the decision to bring Hamilton in for an early stop on lap seventeen, which saw him rejoin the track behind Max Verstappen and unable to clear the Dutchman in enough time to remain ahead of Vettel:
“Sebastian came into the window where the undercut was possible and we had the feeling at that point that [Hamilton’s] tyres were not lasting. It was the team’s impression on the pit wall looking at the data and Lewis’ in the car, too.
“With all the clear risks of coming out in traffic we were between a rock and a hard place, really, and we went for it. But Ferrari played it very well—and they had the quicker car today.
“Now the job for us is to learn the lessons from this race, understand why we didn’t perform to our maximum today and keep working hard to improve the car in every area.”
James Matthews, Editor-at-Large