Chinese GP: Sebastian Vettel says Mercedes are still the favourites
Melbourne race winners not getting ahead of themselves as they aim for first back-to-back victories for seven years at Chinese GP
By Pete Gill and James Galloway
Last Updated: 06/04/17 1:47pm
Sebastian Vettel has maintained Mercedes are still the favourites for the F1 2017 season despite Ferrari's winning start in Australia.
Vettel's victory in Melbourne was the Scuderia's first in a season-opening race in almost a decade and propelled the team to the summit of the Constructors' Championship for the first time in F1's new hybrid power era.
But as Vettel was keen to stress after arriving in Shanghai for this weekend's Chinese GP it was just one race in the wake of three successive title doubles for Mercedes.
"Mercedes have to still be the favourites," said the Ferrari driver. "We had a very, very strong first race but, in the team, we are just looking at it race by race. We know we have a good package which puts us in a strong place. But we have a lot of things we need to do to keep up with them."
Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have repeatedly described each other's team as the favourites for F1 2017 since winter testing and Mercedes were adamant in Australia that they were beaten by Ferrari's pace rather than a strategy mistake of their own.
"A lot of things have changed since last season," accepted Vettel. "We have evolved, we are in a much better position and people are more comfortable throughout the whole team. The work going in is a lot more targeted and we are more confident with how we work now."
Ferrari's season-opening win was their first in Australia since 2007, the year Kimi Raikkonen claimed the team's last Drivers' Championship. However, despite also starting last season strongly in Melbourne, the team's development trailed off badly thereafter and they were comfortably out-pointed by Mercedes and Red Bull in the Constructors' Championship.
Raikkonen, who finished fourth in the season-opener, admits their Melbourne pace bodes well for 2017, but they must now use it as a springboard to kick on.
"Melbourne is a slightly different place compared to normal circuits like here, but normally it's been much more difficult for us in Melbourne," said Raikkonen. "The car's been feeling good all the time when we've been running it and people can think what they want, but we have a good package, good team and we have to make a good job out of it. We need to keep improving because it's going to be a long year. We have to minimise the mistakes and do a good job."
Why haven't they fought before?
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The sprawling Shanghai circuit, host to round two of the new F1 season, is expected to favour the Mercedes package, but Hamilton and co will also be taking on a Ferrari team buoyed by their first win in 18 months and with a proverbial monkey off their back.
"It was a great weekend and the best way to kick off the new season," reflected Vettel. "The day was very special. The reception from the fans was incredible and for everyone back in Maranello it was great to get a little bit of reward after such a long winter and so much hard work. When l came back to the factory everyone was very happy and motivated to work even harder."
Vettel's own hard work over the winter - following a winless campaign which he described as a "difficult but not a disaster" - may also bear fruit this weekend.
While the downpour which struck the circuit on Thursday turned media day into a damp squib, Vettel is unlikely to mind - whereas the rest of the field's experience of wet-weather running in 2017 has so far been restricted to driving on an artificially-dampened track during winter testing at Barcelona, the four-time world champion also tried out Pirelli's wet tyres in a private session at Ferrari's test track in February.
A crash for Vettel into the barriers may have brought proceedings to a premature end on that occasion, but the Ferrari driver's ability to nurse his tyres for five more precious laps in Australia than Hamilton was brought into focus the fact that Vettel has tested Pirelli's new range of rubber more than any other driver.
"The reason why l am generally happy to do is that I love driving," he said. "When there is an opportunity to test, even though testing can sometimes be a bit boring, you are still driving the car and that's much better than sitting on the buke for a couple of hours to be fit enough to drive the car. Track time is generally a bit limited so every opportunity you get, I can't understand why you would reject it.
"There is always something you learn so for sure the days l did with Pirelli last year, to help them and give feedback, they also helped me."
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