For the first time in the ‘power unit’ era, Mercedes looks set to have a real challenger in the form of Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel won in Melbourne, but third force Red Bull’s Christian Horner says the German actually “owes a beer” to Max Verstappen for holding up Lewis Hamilton on Sunday.
But Horner also acknowledged that Vettel fully deserved to win.
“In Vettel’s hands, the new Ferrari is a deadly weapon against Mercedes,” the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera agrees.
And Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost added: “I think the red versus silver duel will entertain us all season.”
The joy and relief at Ferrari was palpable, with boss Maurizio Arrivabene even seen in tears. Team president Sergio Marchionne issued a media statement saying it was “about time” for a win.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, who earlier on television furiously thumped his desk in the decisive moment of the race, admitted Ferrari is now the team to beat.
“I need to work on my emotions during the race,” Wolff smiled.
“Right now it is about accepting that Ferrari beat us.”
One issue with the 2017 Mercedes is its weight, with the team deciding not to use its heavy ‘trick’ suspension layout in Australia.
“Weight is an area in which we can improve,” Wolff admitted.
But another theory is that if not for Hamilton being held up by Verstappen, questionable pitstop timing for the leading Mercedes and a silver car that struggles to follow its rivals, the Briton would have won.
But Vettel insisted: “Right now it looks like we have equal machinery and I hope it stays that way.”