SHANGHAI, April 9- World champion Lewis Hamilton on Thursday promised that Mercedes would strike back at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix after being ambushed by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia.
Vettel’s stunning victory in the heat of Sepang has raised hopes of a genuine battle for the Formula One championship after Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg won 16 of 19 races last year and romped to a one-two finish in this season’s opener in Melbourne.
But Hamilton, who raged at his team over the radio as Vettel ended Ferrari’s 34-race drought, predicted normal service would be resumed in Shanghai this Sunday after being relegated to second place by the German.
“As far as I’m aware of, I don’t think we have any concerns,” the Briton told reporters. “We’re just focusing on doing a better job. It was an untidy weekend collectively as a group. We could have done a better job, including myself and maybe Nico, I don’t know.”
“We are just trying to understand how we can do better and trying to implement it here,” added Hamilton, who won in China for the third time last year.
Despite Vettel having exploded the aura of invincibility Mercedes had built after storming to victory in the previous eight races straddling this season and last, Hamilton insisted Malaysia was merely a blip.
“I think everyone perhaps was surprised (by Ferrari) but we have had so many amazing races for such a long, long time,” sniffed Hamilton. “So one little hiccup at the weekend, and to still get two podiums is pretty awesome.”
– ‘Close fight’ –
Kimi Raikkonen’s fourth place after fighting back from an early puncture provided further encouragement for Ferrari, who had not been expected to show as much pace so soon this year.
Hamilton fumed at the Mercedes crew over the radio for giving him the wrong tyres in Malaysia and, despite being all smiles in Shanghai, he still clearly felt that strategy, particularly the decision to pit three times to Vettel’s two, had cost victory.
“Going back we would have done things a little differently,” he said. “Maybe if we had changed the set-up a little bit, made the tyres last a little bit longer. That was something we missed so naturally when we got behind, the tyres were already melting.
“There was no margin (for error). Maybe if we’d stayed out with those changes, maybe we would’ve covered our first stop — at least been in the fight. It would have been much closer than the 10-second gap between us.”
Rosberg’s cheeky invitation for Vettel to attend the Mercedes debrief in Malaysia served only to fire up his fellow German, but Hamilton also called for Ferrari to make a sustained challenge.
“I hope we can get back to winning,” he smiled. “The track seems to suit my style of driving. But I also hope it’s a close fight between us and Ferrari. That would be cool.”