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Hamilton: Mercedes have fight on

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 26-03-2017 skysports.com

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Lewis Hamilton has admitted Mercedes have "got a race on our hands" in F1 2017 after being beaten by a resurgent Ferrari at the season-opening Australian GP. 

F1's new rules era began in fascinating fashion in Melbourne as Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel claimed their first win in 28 races as the combination of superior pace and pit strategy allowed the German to leapfrog early race leader Hamilton.

Did strategy cost Mercedes victory?

The Briton finished 10 seconds behind as Mercedes had to settle for second and third, with the world champions losing a race win for just the ninth time in the last 60 grands prix.

Hamilton had installed Ferrari, winter testing's pacesetters, as the favourites for Melbourne, and although some had claimed it represented kidology from the triple champion, he insists he only called it as he saw it.

"I don't lie and I'm not very good at bluffing," he told Sky Sports F1.

"I didn't know how quick they would be in the race but their pace from testing was true and their first stint on the ultrasofts was fantastic. My real strength wasn't until right at the end by which time it was far too late."

Hamilton added: "We've got a race on our hands."

Mercedes pitted Hamilton first in an attempt to fend off an expected aggressive 'undercut' strategy from Ferrari, but the Briton came out behind Max Verstappen and, unable to pass the Red Bull, it allowed Vettel to stay out and build enough of a gap to pit and rejoin ahead.

"I only stopped a lap earlier than my target but I couldn't go any further," Hamilton admitted.

Once released to potentially attack Vettel when Verstappen pitted, Hamilton again initially struggled with his tyres and new team-mate Valtteri Bottas began closing on him.

WATCH: How were Mercedes beaten?

Bottas eventually finished just under two seconds adrift to claim the bottom step of the podium on his Mercedes debut, although conceded he "expected a little bit better" in terms of performance.

"It's a decent start and a good haul of points for the team," he said. "The main question mark is the first stint as I didn't have the pace I should have had. The car was sliding around a lot with the ultrasofts but at the end it was feeling consistent and I could really push the car.

"I was trying to get close but once you get within a couple of seconds you lose grip, more than in previous years."

The impressive out-of-the-box pace of the Ferrari does present a challenge for Mercedes, according to Bottas, but the Finn is confident his new team can respond from China onwards.

"It's going to be a big challenge and we have to work really hard if we want to beat Ferrari," he added. "They were quicker today so we need to improve plenty of things.

"I'm glad there are 19 races to go and we are definitely not standing still. That's why I'm happy. Third is not the best result but there is much more to come."

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