Lewis Hamilton admits he is relying on Mercedes to significantly out-perform Ferrari in other areas after acknowledging that the Scuderia have a clear straight-line speed advantage ahead of the Chinese GP.
Though Mercedes head into round three of an enthralling F1 2019 season on the back of consecutive one-twos and a 39-point advantage in the championship, Ferrari dominated the power-friendly Bahrain with their impressive engine, before losing the race through unreliability.
But China features the second-longest straight on the F1 calendar, which Mercedes believe plays directly into their rivals’ hands.
Hamilton, meanwhile, claimed he had not experienced this big a straight-line speed deficit – thought to be just under half a second – in the last five years.
“It’s impressive to see,” the five-time world champion claimed.
He added: “It just means that we are challenging other areas to try and pull more from the car. But my confidence and our focus and our attention has not wavered, and I’m still very confident that we can extract more on weekends.
“It’s not just about straight-line speed; it’s about cornering, performance, reliability, the mechanical side, how you approach a weekend – all these sorts of things.”
But Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas warned: “Making four tenths in pure power of the engine is very difficult to gain over one season.
“It’s a track with very long straights, and straight-line power and speed is really important here. We know Ferrari are going to be strong, and hopefully we have our strengths in other places.”
Hamilton added: “Closing that gap on the straight speed is not something you’ll see close up particularly quickly.”
Hamilton: Ferrari have stepped up
While neither the championship standings nor results comparisons to last year do not show it, at least for the moment, Hamilton acknowledges Mercedes’ biggest rivals have improved.
“You could say [Ferrari have] a stronger package than they had last year,” said the world champion.
“I don’t think we have got a worse package, we have got a really good package as well, but they’ve definitely stepped up this year.”
But Hamilton cautioned that it was too early in the season to pre-judge with any confidence how this weekend’s action in China will pan out.
Instead, the Englishman is simply hoping for a close duel on a circuit that encourages wheel-to-wheel racing. Hamilton has won the Chinese GP five times, more than any other driver.
“Ferrari might come here with an upgrade and be even quicker than they were. You’ve got that long straight down the back,” added Hamilton.
“I hope that we don’t have to rely on reliability and we have a much closer race. In qualifying it was ok in the last race, but in the race there was a big, big gap.
“I hope this weekend it’s closer between us because this is a great track to have a real race. The closer it is, the better.”
Who’s in the hunt for the win?
Mercedes are braced for an intense battle in Shanghai, and for the rest of the season with Hamilton predicting a three-team, and six-driver, fight for the championship.
“At the moment it’s clearly not just me and Sebastian [Vettel],” he said. “I don’t see that changing any time soon. At the moment it’s at least four of us and then the Red Bulls –
Red Bull are another team he claims have made great power strides after swapping Renault for Honda engines.
“You definitely can’t count them out,” Hamilton said. “The Red Bulls have had a bit of a slower start but they won the race here last year and they particularly finish off strong so I anticipate it could be something similar.
“On the straights have been really good. Whereas they usually have a really strong car and not such a strong engine, it’s gone the other way this year. They have not as strong a car but they are one of the teams who can develop at a similar rate to Ferrari and us.”