RELAXED DYNAMO: Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel answers a reporter's question during a media conference in Shanghai. Image: AP / Mark Schiefelbein
SHANGHAI, China - New Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was still beaming two weeks after winning his first Formula 1 race in 16 months but said ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix (April 12) that he did not expect his team to produce a consistent challenge to Mercedes yet.
"I think we are realistic about where we are and what we want to achieve," said Vettel.
For the next few races, he added, the team would focus on beating the teams behind it in the Constructors' standings, "but knowing that Mercedes is in a very, very strong position".
Mercedes had been expected to dominate the 2015 F1 season as it did 2014 when the team won 16 of 19 races, Lewis Hamilton his second championship, but Vettel took advantage of Mercedes' tyre degradation in the tropical heat of Malaysia to surprise the field with his first win since leaving Red Bull for Ferrari at the end of 2014.
Vettel described how "emotional" it was to top the podium in Malaysia - his first F1 victory since the 2013 Brazilian GP - and then visit Ferrari HQ in Maranello to see the red Ferrari flag at the gate signifying his win.
"It's a long time since a flag was there. I think some 10 years ago, there were a lot of flags," said Vettel, a four-times champion with Red Bull. "The flag will stay there for the rest of the year and we will try to put another there some time soon."
'WAKE-UP CALL' FOR MERCEDES
Hamilton will try to prevent that happening at the Chinese GP, a race he has won three times.
While Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called Ferrari's win in Malaysia "a wake-up call" Hamilton said he believed the German team would be much stronger on the track in Shanghai, which favours the silver cars with its long straights and cool air.
"We're not stressed," he said. "You can't get every weekend right, you know. It wasn't even that much of a disaster of a weekend for us. People have blown it out of proportion. I hope we'll correct that this weekend."
He and Vettel, however, acknowledged that Ferrari was faster than in 2014. Whether it will be enough to close the gap to Mercedes, Lewis was not certain. "I think it's all a big guess. I don't really know. They were very, very quick... they did a great job."
Hamilton was second behind Vettel in Malaya, team mate Nico Rosberg third and now hoping for a boost in Shanghai after what he deems a slightly disappointing start to the season. He's been on the podium twice - second in Australia, third in Malaysia - but after his breakthrough 2014 season he was hoping for more now.
"Every race is important but there's still a long way to go. Consistency will still be very important."
BACK TO THE OLD BRAKES
For Red Bull and McLaren nearly anything would be an improvement over the first two races of the year. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat fared worse than their junior team counterparts from Toro Rosso in Malaysia due to overheating brakes. For the Chinese GP Red Bull has decided to return to the brake package it used in 2014.
Ricciardo said: "We're experimenting with a few things but for now we're going to go back to what we know and get our basics right."
He won the three 2014 races not won by Mercedes.
New-look McLaren, which brought driver Fernando Alonso back seven years after his last stint with the team and started a partnership with Honda in the off-season, is still trying to find its stride after early-season technical issues.
Driver Jenson Button said: "A lot of people have asked me how I'm so positive and how the team is so positive and upbeat... it's because we see a great future,"
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2015 MotoGP season – fresh reports every week.