F1: Hamilton has a fight on his hands after Vettel’s 2017 Australian Grand Prix victory

PUBLISHED: 16:46 26 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:55 29 March 2017

Lewis Hamilton, race winner Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas on the podium after the season-opening 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Steve Etherington/Mercedes-Benz Daimler AG]

Lewis Hamilton, race winner Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas on the podium after the season-opening 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Steve Etherington/Mercedes-Benz Daimler AG]

Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton has vowed to bounce back after seeing his victory hopes shattered in the season-opening 2017 Australian Grand Prix.

Despite starting from pole position in Melbourne, the 32-year-old Mercedes F1 driver from Hertfordshire was unable to claim this third Australian GP victory.

A revitalised Ferrari spoilt the party with Sebastian Vettel taking the chequered flag ahead of the Silver Arrows duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for his 43rd F1 win.

Pre-race favourite Hamilton sits seven points behind Vettel in the championship standings after one race, with the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai next up on Sunday, April 9.

Hamilton said: ”I’ll be coming back stronger in the next race, that’s for sure.”

The Stevenage-born racer was leading the season opener after a smooth getaway from pole but then struggled with his tyres and pitted earlier than his rivals, handing the advantage to Vettel.

Hamilton said: “A big congratulations to Sebastian and Ferrari. I know this win has been a long time coming for them.

“This shows we’ve got a real race on our hands this season and it’s a challenge we will relish. It’s going to be great for the fans.”

Looking back on the grand prix, Hamilton said: “We had a really good start which is fantastic. It was nice to get a good getaway.

“But I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker.

“Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres. I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot.

“We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”

In the podium interviews conducted by Mark Webber, Hamilton admitted: “I had to pit a lot earlier than these guys [Vettel and Bottas] because I just ran out of grip. Pitted and I got stuck behind one of the Red Bulls and sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”

After his Australian GP victory, bookies have cut Vettel’s odds for the world title, and an epic battle is on the cards between the German and championship favourite Hamilton.

In the post-race press conference, Vettel said: “He’s proven to be one of the quickest drivers on the grid and for sure I would love to have a close battle.

“Obviously right now it looks like we have equal machinery. I hope it stays that way and then we will see how it turns out but it’s obviously a lot of fun to race for victories and a lot of fun to race against the best.”

Lewis Hamilton congratulates 2017 Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel [Picture: Steve Etherington/Mercedes-Benz Daimler AG] Lewis Hamilton congratulates 2017 Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel [Picture: Steve Etherington/Mercedes-Benz Daimler AG]

Hamilton is looking forward to racing Vettel this year in similarly matched cars.

He said: “It’s been a privilege to be racing in an era with him and now finally at a period of time when we can actually have a real race.

“I wish we could race a lot closer in the cars that we have today but still I think the fact that we are similar pacewise, it’s going to be a very, very hard slog this season.

“It’s going to be physically and mentally demanding but, as Sebastian said, racing the best is what Formula One is all about and ultimately makes you work that much harder, having to raise the bar and I’m looking forward to that.”

Nico Rosberg’s replacement in the other Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas, finished third on his debut for the Silver Arrows.

The Finn said: “There are always things that could have gone better on the day, but it’s a good starting point for my journey driving for Mercedes.

“As a team I think we did a really good job with the car we had. But Ferrari were quicker today, there’s no doubt about that. They’ve obviously done a great job over the winter.

“From my side the main issue was the first stint. I felt like I was always sliding around on the UltraSoft tyre – missing front and rear grip – especially after 10 laps. That wasn’t easy.

“But once we stuck on the Softs I had a great feeling with the car. It was behaving really nicely and it felt really nice to drive. It’s a shame it was just a bit too late.

“But overall this race wasn’t a disaster. It’s good to start with a podium with a new team and every position is important for the Championship.

“There’s a long season ahead. I have my points and I’ll do better next time. I’m looking forward to China.”

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, was pleased with a double podium Down Under, but admitted Ferrari deserved today’s opening win.

He said: “From the early stages of the race, it was clear that Sebastian was very quick because Lewis wasn’t able to pull away.

“Sebastian came into the window where the undercut was possible and we had the feeling at that point that the tyres were not lasting.

“It was the team’s impression on the pit wall looking at the data and Lewis’ in the car, too. So that was when, with all the clear risks of coming out in traffic, we took the decision to come in.

“We were between a rock and a hard place, really, and we went for it. But Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today.”

Mercedes technical director James Allison said there’s no reason to panic after one race.

He said: “We got a good getaway from the flag. But credit to Ferrari today, they had a very quick car and we just weren’t quite good enough to stick with them.

“We won’t panic, though. It’s race one of a long season and we scored some very good points with both cars today.

“We’ll be determined to come back stronger in China and make sure those small margins go our way next time.”

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