Lewis Hamilton supporters concerned that his only serious rival, Nico Rosberg, has topped the podium on the past four occasions will not have their worries assuaged by the news that their concerns are shared by the three-times world champion himself.
When asked after his defeat by Rosberg at the Australian Grand Prix whether this season would be tougher than the previous two, both of which he ended with the world title, Hamilton replied: “I feel as though there will be a battle. There will be races where we are seconds ahead and finish up the road and then there will be races where we go wheel to wheel.”
Hamilton is used to addressing the challenge from his Mercedes team-mate, but it is the threat from a rejuvenated Ferrari team that could represent the biggest danger. He never really recovered from a poor start in Melbourne on Sunday, when he slipped back from pole position to sixth place, although his fightback to claim second behind Rosberg left him in an upbeat mood.
“The Ferraris were very strong,” he said. “They got a good start, so we have to find out how we can do better. The second part, where you release the clutch fully, I just had a bit of wheelspin and never recovered from it.”
In truth, Ferrari blew their chance at Albert Park, where they adopted a more aggressive policy after the race was red-flagged following Fernando Alonso’s crash. They chose to fit an extra pair of supersofts, meaning they would have to stop again and give up leading the race – and leading in Melbourne is particularly important because it is difficult to pass.
The good news for neutrals is that Ferrari have shown enough form to make things spicy this season. Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said: “Ferrari ran a lot closer to Mercedes. It was a good race for Formula One on Sunday. There were competitive fights going on throughout the field, some great racing. We put on a good show in front of a big crowd and hopefully a big audience. That was Formula One at its best and how it should be.”
Maurizio Arrivabene, the Ferrari team principal, said on Monday: “On the wall we were confident [we could win] in all honesty. We were looking at the race and looking at the gap we were gaining and at that time our radio was to go with our strategy and keep going. I don’t want to make any excuses, but the last red flag was in 2009 if I’m not wrong. But it’s part of the race and you have to accept it and that’s it.
“At that stage of the race you have to be more aggressive. It could be right, it could be wrong, I think Sebastian was talking about that. If you want to look at the glass not half empty, we were better and this is the news. You can’t be happy after this, but this is racing.”
Jenson Button, who had another ultimately disappointing race with McLaren, finishing in 14th after an encouraging qualifying performance from the team, was also impressed by Ferrari. He said: “Ferrari are definitely closer, which is good. It’s great for the sport and we need that.”
While Hamilton and Button disappointed on Sunday there was a most heartening drive from the British driver Jolyon Palmer, who just missed out on the points in 11th place in his Renault.
Before making off to the Gold Coast for a holiday, he said about his Formula One debut: “It just went really smoothly of his Formula One debut. I was happy with it. The whole weekend. Went well. The race was pretty much perfect. To get to the finish with no dramas … the only thing is it would have been lovely to get a point out of the end of it.”
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