Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg believe that Ferrari poses a more serious threat to Mercedes in the fight for the Formula 1 championships in 2016 after enjoying a strong first race in Australia.
Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying, only for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to run first and second for the early part of the race.
Had it not been for a dud tire call under a red flag, Vettel would likely have been in contention for the race win, but ultimately had to settle for third place behind Rosberg and Hamilton.
However, Ferrari’s pace was enough to make clear to both Mercedes drivers that the Italian manufacturer will be a more serious threat in 2016.
“I think they’re stronger this year for sure,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race in Australia.
“There’s going to be more races that they’re ahead or at least with us in the battle, which is hopefully what the fans wanted to see. I hope that was exciting for them.
“I love this track, it’s just unfortunate with the car the way it is that you can’t follow. None of us can. It’s so hard to overtake. But hopefully at these other tracks, you’re going to see some of that real racing.”
When asked if he relished the battle with Ferrari, Hamilton said: “Bring it, let’s go!”
Rosberg echoed his teammate’s comments, believing that Mercedes must be wary of the threat posed this season.
“Ferrari is in the hunt. They looked quick, yeah,” Rosberg said.
“We need to be careful and keep pushing definitely. They’re close.”
Vettel remained coy when asked about Ferrari’s relative standing to Mercedes in 2016, saying that the team will continue to fight until it is at the head of the pack.
“We know that the car is good in the race. We know we’re lacking a bit in qualifying, obviously that’s good news because it matters on Sunday, not Saturday,” Vettel said.
“We want to be the favorites, we want to be the ones to beat. We don’t want to be lucky and then end up in the right spot. We want to earn that spot.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us. Right now they are the favorites, so there’s a lot of work but equally a big thanks to the team. Things are coming together bit by bit and we’re on the right track.”
Despite Ferrari’s strong showing in Australia, Vettel said that he would not begin thinking about a possible bid for a fifth drivers’ championship until later in the season.
“This is only round one. I’ve always had the philosophy that race one, even until the summer break, you don’t think about the championship,” Vettel said.
“You try to do your best, you race flat out. That’s what I love, that’s what I’m here for. Everything else comes naturally.”