Lewis Hamilton insists Mercedes “truly believed” Ferrari held an advantage during pre-season testing and was surprised by his advantage after taking pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time of pre-season, with Hamilton estimating Ferrari’s advantage to be as much as half a second in Barcelona. Those predictions proved false during qualifying in Melbourne, where Hamilton followed a clean sweep of practice to secure his eighth pole position in Australia — tying Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher for the most poles at one specific circuit — by over 0.7s from Vettel but the defending champion “absolutely” felt Ferrari had a quicker car over the winter.
“Since (testing) from day one to the last day when we left, when we went back to the factory, we knew we had work to do,” Hamilton said. “I felt good that we had a decent package to work with but we were wary that we might be slightly behind; that’s what we honestly thought, when they showed us the summary of how testing went.
“We were behind Ferraris from our analysis — we truly believed we were behind. And from then until now, we haven’t changed the car — we’ve understood the car more, we know what we have to do to move the car forwards but we haven’t brought any upgrades or anything like that. But the last couple of days felt really good at the track.
“Yesterday, Ferrari were just with us I think. It looked like they were a little bit heavy on fuel initially and then they dropped their fuel and then we were quite on par in performance. We thought we were closer than we thought we would be after testing. And then all of a sudden they lost a bit of performance in running, I think this afternoon or this morning, which we were not expecting and so it is a real shock.”
After leading a Mercedes front row lock-out Hamilton admits he was surprised by Ferrari’s own performance given how the SF90 looked during testing, joking with Vettel that his team had been running low fuel.
“When we look at the GPS, it’s a lot of the mid-speed corners. When you look at his lap from Barcelona the car looked planted, so I was just saying to him, were you on fumes or something? It is a difficult circuit and it’s quite gusty here as well so it could be a number of things but I’m really really grateful for where our car is and where it enabled us to be today.
“I know that Ferrari are going to be pushing hard and progressing over the coming days and tomorrow I’m sure they will be putting up a good fight, as they are always strong in the races.”