Lewis Hamilton has predicted another closely fought power struggle for Mercedes with Ferrari at this weekend’s Chinese GP.
The world champion has also warned the Scuderia’s straight-line speed will make the championship leaders particularly difficult to beat in Shanghai.
Defying pre-season predictions of a Mercedes walkover in 2018, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has won both of the year’s opening races.
Mercedes have won the last four Chinese GPs but Hamilton is wary of the extra horsepower the Prancing Horse have found this year.
“They are going to be hard to beat,” said the F1 reigning world champion. “Their straight-line speed in the last few races has been faster than ours and we have the longest straights here. So I’m anticipating they will be very, very fast and hard to beat.
“They are faster than us on the straights and as quick as us through the corners. Their engine programme has really taken a big step this season. It will be interesting to see how their reliability will be – as it will be for Renault and us.
“This should be a good track for us but I think it’s going to be close.”
The story of 2018 at the front of the grid has been a marked contrast between the two opening rounds. While Mercedes held a clear pace advantage in Australia, Ferrari had the edge in Bahrain.
“I still believe we are the best team. We definitely have the potential to win races and to fight for this championship. But what’s important is that we all stay on our toes.
“We all need to be performing at our utmost and it’s even more crucial this year as it’s magnified because we are so close. Ferrari are really performing well – and both Kimi [Raikkonen] and Sebastian are performing really well – so l think it’s a tougher season than last year. Ferrari have got a very fast car and there are millimetres between us.”
Mercedes have spoken about the need to bring their ‘A’ game to all races, while Hamilton has cited improved communication between pitwall and car to ensure they are maximising race strategy.
“I’m not hopeful, I know we will improve,” he said. “It’s not like it’s terrible, it’s just that we can improve and those improvements will help us win races.”
How to follow the Chinese GP on Sky F1 Friday April 13 Sky F1 digital live blog 3am: P1 LIVE! (Build-up 2.45am) 7am: P2 LIVE! (Build-up 6.45am) Saturday April 14 Sky F1 digital live blog 4am: P3 LIVE! (Build-up 3.45am) 7am: Qualifying LIVE! (Build-up 6am) 8.45am: The F1 Show LIVE! Sunday April 15 Sky F1 digital live blog 5.30am: Pit Lane LIVE 6.30am: On the Grid LIVE! 7.10am: The Chinese GP LIVE!
Hamilton: ‘Wake-up calls’ no bad thing
Despite winning three of the last four world titles, Hamilton has only once held an outright points lead in the world championship standings after a season’s first two rounds since Mercedes’ rise to F1 power in 2014.
Hamilton, who trails Vettel by 17 points at the start of this year, is not sure why he has tended to play catch-up but says the lessons Mercedes have learned so far in 2018 will prove useful the longer the season goes on.
“It’s definitely not planned! If you look at Melbourne, performance-wise I was really happy with our performance up until the moment we lost the race,” he said.
“But it had been such a strong weekend and I’d been so on it with the best qualifying lap I’d done for a long time, then the strength in the race.
“I don’t know why that is we generally don’t start off the best. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we have wake-up calls within the group because it’s easy for us a humans to whether it’s be complacent, over confident or under confident, under expect or over expect. Just finding the right balance.
F1 2018: How to watch with Sky Sports F1
“You kind of stumble through the first few races and then find your ground and know what to do. It doesn’t matter how many races you do, that’s part of the racing process. If you be too aggressive, you lose a whole race and maybe lose more points than you should have. If you be under aggressive, you don’t get any points.
“I think we’ve been strong in those years and just getting a steady pace to start with. Would I like to start with a bigger blow? Yes. But that’s what we tried in Australia and we can across a scenario that we didn’t have the right execution for. We learnt from that and we take it onwards.
“But it’s still a second and a third – if you have that the whole way through the season then you’re in a good place to win the championship… [although] not when you’re behind Ferrari.”
Sky F1's Simon Lazenby and Martin Brundle discuss the big talking points ahead of the Chinese GP
Will Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari make it three wins in a row or can Mercedes and Red Bull respond in Shanghai? Watch the Chinese GP exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Get Sky Sports F1.