Lewis Hamilton admits he backed off in the race with Sebastian Vettel in the Australian Grand Prix to protect his power unit with a championship battle in mind.
Having started from pole, Hamilton appeared to have the quickest car but dropped behind Vettel when Ferrari was able to take advantage of a Virtual Safety Car period to lose less time in the pits. For more than 20 laps at the end of the race, Hamilton had the pace to put pressure on Vettel and was often within DRS range but unable to pass, and the defending champion says he eventually opted to settle for second place.
“I did everything I believe that I was supposed to do,” Hamilton said of when he lost the lead. “The Virtual Safety Car came out and then I was coming down the straight and all of a sudden, really last minute I was told that the Ferrari was coming out. I didn’t know the Ferrari was in, and not that it really could have made much difference because I had the delta to stay to.
“I think just disbelief was really from that moment until the end, just disbelief. Obviously I was hungry to try and recover from whatever the scenario, whether it was a mistake or not. I was risking it, and I could have lost all the points, because it was so difficult behind, as I said.
“Eventually I think I made the sensible choice. It’s a long, long way in the championship and it’s not all won in one race. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”
Having pushed hard to attack Vettel in the final part of the race, Hamilton ran wide at Turn 9 and admits his error played a part in deciding not to take too many risks.
“Communications is something we obviously are going to work on, but I was like ‘Can I fight? Can I go?’ And they were saying take your time, and I was like ‘I’m going for it’. And I gave it everything at that moment and I was quite close behind him and getting his tow, and just nipped the right front, and didn’t make the corner.
“After that I was catching again and trying to catch up, and the temperatures were once again on the limit. So constantly being pushed and pulled. I just thought, I couldn’t get him in those other laps, my tires were worse now, I am driving 110 percent and risking everything just for seven points. And I should probably sit back and save my engine and use the life of it for the next ones.
“That goes against my spirit of racing because I want to race right down to the last line. I am fit enough, I felt good, but the way this sport is set up with fuel saving and all these different things, three engines, you have to think about that and back off.
“So it was probably not exciting for the fans, because they probably wanted to see (a battle) to the end. But I want to finish my season on those three engines, I don’t want a penalty.”