Lewis Hamilton has revealed it was his call to stop early during Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia, having struggled to hold on to the lead of the race due to his fading tires.
Despite tipping Ferrari to be the team to beat in Australia, Hamilton took the 62nd pole position of his career on Saturday, beating Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton retained his lead in the early part of the race from Ferrari driver Vettel, only for the German to turn in a sequence of quick laps ahead of the first round of pit stops.
Fearful of losing the lead on-track to Vettel, Hamilton opted to pit early at the end of Lap 16 so that he could put his fresh tires to good use and try to get the undercut on his rival.
Ferrari did not react immediately, keeping Vettel out until Hamilton hit traffic, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen holding the Mercedes driver back and creating a bigger gap between the two victory contenders.
Vettel was able to pit and come back out ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton, immediately forging a buffer that would sustain until the end of the race.
Hamilton explained after the race that he decided to come in early due to his tire concerns, believing that Vettel would have overtaken him anyway.
“We had a really good start, which is fantastic, it’s great to have a good getaway – but then we were struggling with the grip from the get-go,” Hamilton said.
“Sebastian was able to always answer in terms of lap time and the majority of the time do faster lap times. Towards the end I got a bit in traffic and overheated the tires and was struggling with grip, so it was to the point that I needed to come in.
“The gap was closing up and I was sliding around so it was my call, because otherwise he probably would have come by anyways. I came in and then I obviously got stuck in some traffic, which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”
Hamilton congratulated Vettel on his success, and said the result boded well for a close championship fight between Mercedes and Ferrari.
“A big congratulations to Sebastian and Ferrari, I know it’s been a long time coming to get a result like this,” Hamilton said.
“It shows we’re going to have a race on our hands, which we’re happy to have. I think it’s great for the fans.
“Unfortunately it’s harder than ever to get closer to cars, which is a shame because we can’t have an even closer battle. Who knows, maybe in the future we will.”