Mercedes boss Toto Wolff: Fighting against Ferrari is exciting for the fans and a new challenge

Telegraph Sport
Sebastian Vettel celebrates victory on the podium - Getty Images AsiaPac

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes team insist they will come back stronger from their defeat to Ferrari at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Mercedes have dominated Formula One for the past three years, but Sebastian Vettel's comfortable victory would appear to suggest that their stranglehold on the sport may be over.

Four-time champion Vettel finished 10 seconds clear of Hamilton at Albert Park, which marked the first time a team other than Mercedes has won the first grand prix of the season since 2013.

It could be argued that it is just what the sport needed after three consecutive years of Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg - the reigning champion who watched Sunday's race unfold from his lounge in Monaco.

"It is personality building," admitted Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, as he reflected on Vettel's victory. "You lose some and you win some.

Australian Grand Prix

"We have been very fortunate in the last three years that we have won most of them. Now it is about accepting that Ferrari beat us.

"I would much rather win than lose, but it is part of Formula One and we have had an exceptional run in the last three years.

"We always said this was an outlier and we cannot expect this to continue forever. We did not have a great testing and we did not have a great Sunday, but we will leave no stone unturned in order to win. We will come out stronger."

Mercedes arrived in Melbourne in a new era for the sport - following sweeping changes to the technical rulebook - in the belief that Ferrari held the advantage after an encouraging pre-season for the famous Italian team.

Australian Grand Prix 2017 pictures - celebrities, sports stars and all the best F1 action from Melbourne

But a practice double for Hamilton - followed up by securing pole position - gave them hope that they would extend their winning run which stood at 51 from the last 59 races heading into Sunday's grand prix. It was not to be.

"Even if we won all those races and it looked like it was easy or it was clear it wasn't," Wolff added.

"We were always sceptical whether it was good enough and we always tried to look at the negatives in everything we did and look at the worst-case scenario and that is why we always considered Red Bull or Ferrari to be real competitors.

"Fighting against Ferrari is something that is exciting. It is something that is exciting for the fans and a new challenge for us."

Television footage cut to a furious Wolff thumping his fist on a desk inside the Mercedes garage after Vettel emerged ahead of Hamilton following the only round of pit stops.

Toto Wolff (right) with Niki Lauda (centre) and Ross Brawn (left) Credit: AFP

"I need to work on my emotions during the race," Wolff said, before joking: "I will talk to someone professionally about it."

In the Ferrari garage it was all bear-hugs and back-slapping as Vettel crossed for the team's first win since his last victory at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2015.

"We say this all the time, what this team has done in the last six months has been really tough, rough as well," Vettel said.

"(It's) not (been) easy to manage the whole team, but I think the new car in general obviously is fantastic and this is a great reward, a big relief for everyone.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs, left and rights in the last 12 months. The big difference was being able to deliver a really good car.

"I saw the guys (in the garage), they were smiling and singing, I'm sure we'll see some more of that. But... it's just the beginning. Motivation has been really high but obviously it helps to wave from the podium."

Sebastian Vettel in action at Albert Park Credit: AFP

Jock Clear, Ferrari's head of racing activities, said he was uncertain whether their cars are quicker than Mercedes in "absolute terms". Vettel was also far from getting carried away about his prospects of winning a fifth title.

"It's not the time to look at the table. Step by step," he said. "(There are) new rules, regulations and generations of cars.

"(Mercedes) made good steps forward and we are the ones that need to catch up. Whatever happens this year, the race today doesn't hurt."

Daniel Ricciardo was slapped with a grid penalty, missed the start because of a mechanical problem and retired halfway through the race as his season opener unfolded in the worst possible way.

"Not the weekend I wanted at home," he said. "For all these things to happen at my home race - that's probably the most frustrating thing.

Red Bull mechanics try to fix Daniel Ricciardo's car Credit: REUTERS

"We were on the back foot already after the crash in qualifying and then today we had an issue during the warm-up lap followed by a second issue in the race. On both occasions the car just came to a stop so I couldn't do anything else.

"But look, it's the first race, so hopefully we'll move forward from this. I'll wake up tomorrow and be motivated to get ready for China."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner commended the crew for getting Ricciardo into the race after the problem with a sensor on the gearbox in the formation lap.

"It was an unbelievable recovery from the mechanics to get him into the race, nobody gave up in working to get the car out there," Horner said. "Then we were always going to be relying on safety cars to get back on to the lead lap. We decided to put the mileage in and get the knowledge anyway."

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