Australian GP: Lewis Hamilton still facing a battle to win
Watch Australian GP on Sky F1 on Sunday, lights out at 5.10am
By Pete Gill and James Galloway in Melbourne
Last Updated: 17/03/19 5:02am
Lewis Hamilton only has to remember last year's Australian GP to know he faces a big battle to win 2019's season-opener despite Mercedes' crushing defeat of Ferrari in qualifying.
Mercedes inflicted what Sky F1's Martin Brundle termed a "thrashing" of Ferrari and Red Bull in qualifying at Melbourne, with Hamilton just a whisker ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas but a racing mile clear of the third-placed Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, who will line up fourth for Red Bull.
But the actual size of Hamilton's advantage - 0.704 seconds - is similar to his superiority 12 months ago when he took pole by 0.664 from Ferrari only to then lose out to Vettel on race day.
"We really had no idea that we would have this performance," said a startled Hamilton. "We thought we would be behind.
"I don't know where the time has gone from the others."
But only one of the last seven pole-sitters at Melbourne has gone on to win the race while Sky F1's Karun Chandhok observed: "This is a unique circuit which may not be an indicator for the rest of the season."
Vettel also noted Ferrari's defeat was "more or less the same gap" as 2018, and added: "The car should be strong in race trim.
"But certainly with that much margin, Mercedes are still the favourites."
Having excelled in pre-season testing, Ferrari's struggle to keep pace with Mercedes was a shock - not just to the paddock but also to Mercedes themselves.
"My viewpoint is that they have lost performance," said a cautious Hamilton.
"We haven't changed the car and l have almost the same set-up as l had in Barcelona.
"This is the first time we have had the car down at the fuel load we have for qualifying so this was the first time we have unleashed the car's full potential."
And Mercedes boss Toto Wolff warned: "Just because we had a very good Friday and a very good first Saturday in Melbourne doesn't mean that this will be a home run for the championship. On the contrary, like last year we will need to stretch ourselves to the maximum and really leave no stone unturned."
Mercedes 'reassured' by pace
While F1's world champions have too much experience to get too carried away by their surprise front-row lockout, Mercedes nonetheless said the result was a strong early indicator of the W10's potential.
"One thing we have confirmed today is the car is fast," said Toto Wolff. "Going for a championship means being fast on most of the tracks, getting it together and not making mistakes, having a reliable car and the drivers doing a good job.
"But the first good news - and this is reassuring - is that the car's fast. Now it's about taking it from there and understanding why that is."
Wolff added: "It wasn't the easiest of starts in Barcelona and we can't judge yet whether it is a bit of an outlier because Melbourne is different. But we generally have a car that's as fast as it seemed today."
He added that the final day of winter testing - when Hamilton all-but matched Vettel's best lap time of the fortnight - was a turning point.
"We were really experimenting with the car with the car in order to understand when it was performing and how it was performing," Wolff added. "On the Friday when we started the first proper low-fuel runs the car was together and this is when we were equally fast to Ferrari and felt there was an upside from there."
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Sky Sports F1's Australian GP schedule
Sunday, March 17
3.30am: Australian GP Pitlane Live - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
4.15am: Australian GP On The Grid Live - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
5.10am: THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX LIVE - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
7am: Australian GP Paddock Live - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
8am: Full race replay Australian GP - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
11.35am: Full race replay Australian GP - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1 and Sky One.
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