Sebastian Vettel believes Ferrari is up to 0.4s slower than Mercedes at the start of this season despite winning the opening race.
Lewis Hamilton was on pole position by nearly 0.7s at the Australian Grand Prix, but he failed to break away from Kimi Raikkonen early on and was then jumped by Vettel during a Virtual Safety Car period. However, Vettel believes Mercedes’ pace advantage is currently big enough to prevent Ferrari from fighting for victory on outright speed.
“I think if you look at the pace, testing, first race, it’s pretty clear that Mercedes is fastest, probably with three or four-tenths gap,” Vettel said. “That’s also what we saw in the race. Lewis was controlling his pace in the beginning and pushed when he had to. He had time in hand. I think that’s the fair answer.
“Then I think it’s very close behind them. Ultimately we need to have pace to win. Touching on some of the things, we look at ourselves and try to improve. I’m confident that we can. I think the car has potential, but we need to make progress and catch up quickly to be there to fight for wins just the way we did at many races last year.”
Asked whether that gap he references is in qualifying or the race, Vettel replied: “Overall.
“I think in qualifying, the gap then looked a bit bigger then it probably should have been. If you look at the session again then it’s pretty clear Q2 in particular, Mercedes and Lewis didn’t get the lap together, then in Q3 he did. I think Max had a small mistake in Q3, I had a small mistake. We should have been a bit closer. I think that’s the gap we saw in qualy and then the race, so both.”
And Vettel says the victory in Melbourne acts as even more motivation to work hard to close the gap, as he believes progress has still been made over the winter.
“I think we have enough clever people to know that we’re not quick enough yet. There’s a lot of analysis, obviously after every running that we do and people looking into all sorts of stuff to try and get more performance out of us, out of the team, out of the car.
“It’s also a no-brainer that we’re not quick enough yet and Mercedes is quicker, but we go racing. It’s not that we live in simulation land and rely solely on numbers. We go racing as you saw a couple of weeks ago in Australia, as you saw many times over the past years. And that’s I think the excitement of what we do, that you never really know what happens even if you have a guess.
“I’m sure you have your statistics and numbers, and you can say this many times it works out that way. Sometimes it doesn’t. I think in general people are quite fired up. We had a great year last year. We missed to win the constructors’ and drivers’ championship. I think with this year’s contender we improved. The car is better, but we need to get it in the right window. Plus we need to catch up looking at where others are.
“Overall I think we are aware, but we’re very motivated to turn the page and do the final step. I said many times it is the hardest step to take, but we are very willing to take it.”