For the first time in four seasons Mercedes were denied victory in the season-opening Grand Prix, as Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari made good on their pre-season promise by triumphing at Albert Park. Strategy played a part in the result – but as Mercedes chief Toto Wolff explains, Ferrari were also faster when it mattered most. And if that spells a season-long battle, Wolff says the Silver Arrows are relishing the new challenge…
Ferrari simply the quicker car – Toto Wolff
The way Sebastian held on to Lewis was simply surprising - we were pushing flat out but were not able to pull away...
Q: Toto, how much frustration is there about the race result? Was it a strategic mistake?
Toto Wolff: The Ferrari was simply the quicker car today. The way Sebastian held on to Lewis was simply surprising. We were pushing flat out but were not able to pull away. There was the risk of the undercut and we all thought that the tyres wouldn't last any longer - and all that made us take the decision to pit to avoid the undercut. Then coming out behind Max (Verstappen), who was fighting his own race, lost us the race.
Q: How much discussion was there with Lewis? He didn't seem to be happy with the grip…
TW: We try to take all information on board that we had to make this call: grip levels, tyres temperatures, the driver's feedback – and that all led to this decision. Today it was probably a few laps too early. But it is never the decision of a single person!
Q: What was the reason for Lewis struggling with the tyres?
TW: I think these tyres have a very narrow window and you need to keep them in that window to perform well – and if you are under or above the window you lose performance. This is different to last year and needs new calibration for all of us.
Q: What was your strategy to pass Max?
TW: We thought that Max would pit earlier and then Lewis would be in free air. It was a combination of variables that went against us.
I was aware that the moment would come where we lose with humility and accept that somebody has done a better job
Q: Would you have done anything different in hindsight?
TW: In hindsight you are always smarter no? But as a general summary we weren't quick enough – that's why Sebastian is the deserved winner. For sure we could have done better. Would we have been good enough to win? I don't know. Sebastian could have attempted the undercut at any stage and it could have come up the same way. But why we didn't have the pace at the beginning of the race, in these conditions – I don't know.
Q: On Friday you were faster than Ferrari in the long runs, so what happened today?
TW: In the conditions today we underperformed. The difference was that it was much hotter today and we weren't as good over long runs as on Friday.
Q: It's the first time since Singapore 2015 that you've lost because you weren't quick enough. How does that go down?
TW: It is personality-building! (Laughs) But in the end you win some and lose some. We have been very fortunate in the last three years that we've won most of the races –now it is about accepting that Ferrari have beaten us. But we will come out stronger out of this weekend! We didn't have a great pre-season and we haven't had a great Sunday today, but we will leave no stone unturned to get better.
Fighting Ferrari is exciting – exciting for the fans. It is a new challenge for us!
Q: Valtteri Bottas seemed to struggle to match Lewis and Sebastian, at least in the early stages of the race. Was there a reason behind that?
TW: The plan was to drop a little bit behind Sebastian in order not to damage the tyres. At the beginning we just didn't have the pace in the car that is why Lewis could not pull away from Sebastian and Valtteri was not able to hold on to the train in front of him. Eventually the race came towards us as the temperature dropped a bit, we changed the tyres and the pace was absolutely fine at the end of the race – but not at the beginning.
Q. How satisfied were you with Valtteri's driving?
TW: I am very impressed with his driving – all weekend long. He was under immense pressure being at Mercedes and driving Nico's car, and he delivered. He closed in on Lewis towards the end of the race – but we also took some pace out of Lewis's car quite early when it was clear that we wouldn't be able to win.
Q: What is more fun: fighting with another team or having two drivers in the team fighting each other?
TW: None of them! All of them! Fighting Ferrari is exciting – exciting for the fans. It is a new challenge for us! (Laughs)
Q: You were visibly angry during the race, but your drivers came in second and third. Have you forgotten how to lose?
TW: I am very emotional during the race! And I would rather win than lose. We had an exceptional run in the last three years and we cannot expect that to continue forever. I was aware that the moment would come where we lose with humility and accept that somebody has done a better job – and that is just what had happened today. They have done a great job, and Sebastian is a well-deserved race winner.
Q: If you had watched this new era of F1 as a fan, would you have liked what you saw?
TW: I love the new cars. When you look at the onboard – for example Lewis' pole position lap – that is mind blowing. That is what we wanted to achieve. The overtaking is not great. Melbourne might be different though – when we get to tracks where the DRS effect is a little bit larger it might help us.