Sebastian Vettel has warned Ferrari is “a bit worse off” than it was in 2017 despite winning the opening race of the season on both occasions.
The Australian Grand Prix followed a similar pattern this year compared to 12 months ago as Vettel jumped Lewis Hamilton in the pit stops to take victory after the Briton had secured pole position. However, in 2017 Vettel had been following the Mercedes closely before taking the lead using strategy, whereas this year the intervention of the Virtual Safety Car played into his hands, and he admits Ferrari’s pace is not as competitive as it was at the same time last season.
“Well, at the moment we’re a bit worse off,” Vettel said. “Last year we had more pace at this point. If you look at the gaps the whole weekend, we’re not yet a true match. Obviously we had very good pace [in the race] – Kimi [Raikkonen] was very strong in the first stint. I think I was probably a tiny bit stronger in the second stint but it was a different race for us.
“I think if you look and you are fair, then Lewis was fastest whereas last year I think we were fastest and it was very, very close – and therefore at this point we know that we are not yet where we want to be because we want to be fastest.”
However, Vettel insists Ferrari is not too far off Mercedes’ level having been able to manage the race from the front once he got the lead in Australia.
“I think last year we had more pace in relative terms. Last year we were putting them under pressure. Even though Lewis was in the lead, I think we managed to put him under pressure so yeah, I was forced to pit and we benefited from that.
“I think we didn’t have the true race pace to match them [this year] but we weren’t that far off. In the last stint, even though we were probably lucky with the Virtual Safety Car, we still had enough pace to stay ahead and make it very difficult for him to be close and try and do something.
“I think also compared to the others, it didn’t look like there was a whole train behind us so I think we had some decent pace.”