Dismayed Lewis Hamilton laid the blame squarely at the feet of his Mercedes team after their apparent miscalculation allowed his chief rival Sebastian Vettel to win the first race of the new Formula One season.
Vettel capitalised on a virtual safety car period to overtake reigning champion Hamilton in the pit lane – a manoeuvre that effectively decided the Australian Grand Prix in the Ferrari’s driver’s favour.
The British racer felt he could have stayed in front of the German had he been encouraged to push harder by his team, who incorrectly advised him that his lead was sufficient.
“I am in disbelief because I did everything I was supposed to do. I drove as well as I could and I didn’t put a foot wrong,” said Hamilton, who finished five seconds behind Vettel in second.
“They couldn’t give me an exact reason as to why it was the way it was. In the race I had extra tools. I could have been further ahead by the first pit stop. I could have been further ahead after.
“There were so many good things we could have done. But if one thing’s telling you one thing and you think you’re doing it to the book and within the limit then there is nothing you can do.”
Vettel’s chance came when Haas driver Romain Grosjean stopped on lap 24, coming to a halt on the straight between turns two and three, due to loose wheel nuts.
Mercedes’ gaffe allowed him to land the first blow of what is likely to be another year-long duel between the two four-time champions, although Hamilton insisted there were encouraging signs for the team to take from the first weekend in Melbourne.
“Everyone in the team is feeling it but there’s so much great work and so much positivity to take forward with us. We still got second today so it feels like a dark cloud, but it’s not,” he added.
“We still got a positive result, we’ve got a great car and we’re still the world champions. With a couple of adjustments we can win the next race. I believe that.”
Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium, with home favourite Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull fourth and two-time champion Fernando Alonso fifth for McLaren – his best finish since October 2016.